Juventus have offered Manchester United two players in exchange for Paul Pogba, according to reports.

Pogba was keen on a move away from Old Trafford this summer and his situation is being monitored by a host of top European clubs including Juventus and Real Madrid.

Pogba currently has two years left on his contract, and United have an option to sign him for another year after that.

But the Frenchman is reported to be asking for more money, perhaps to force an exit from the club in January.

And now Tuttosport claims that Juve have offered former Liverpool midfielder Emre Can and Mario Mandzukic as part of a deal to land Pogba.

Daniele Rugani has been out of favour with Maurizio Sarri this season and the report adds that he could be another swap option for United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer strengthened his defence in the summer and the potential signings of Can and Mandzukic – who United have been heavily linked with – could be more tempting.

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Jose Mourinho was hammered for much of what he said and how he went about managing Manchester United. Maybe he was right more often than we all thought…

 

Finishing second was an incredible achievement
“I keep saying and thinking and feeling that the second last season was one of my biggest achievements in the game.”

How we all laughed when serial winner Mourinho declared that leading United to a runners-up finish was up there with the two Champions League titles and four domestic leagues he has conquered. At the time, it reeked of self-preservation.

But Mourinho knew. And he doubled down on that view after he was sacked. “If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, ‘this guy is crazy,’” Mourinho said a month after being shown the door. “‘He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?’”

“I keep saying this because people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes.”

In the context of United’s current fortunes, maybe Mourinho deserves a stand to be named after him at Old Trafford after coming 19 points behind Man City, but comfortably ahead of Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea. His squad was very similar to the one currently disgracing themselves, with Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez (the Chilean joined halfway through the season) the only major exits, while Solskjaer has the luxury of the centre-back that Mourinho pleaded for.

 

Mourinho knew Pogba can’t be trusted
Paul Pogba may have been United’s most technically gifted player of the last three seasons, but Mourinho was right. The midfielder is a ‘virus’ in the dressing room.

“You don’t respect players and supporters. And you kill the mentality of the good honest people around you,” Mourinho is reported to have told Pogba after a draw at Southampton last year. “You are like a person with a flu, with a virus in a closed room – you pass that virus to the others.”

By that time, the problems at United had split supporters and pundits into two separate factions: Jose vs Pogba. Shortly after, it was Pogba who claimed victory, and his sudden-but-fleeting upturn in form upon Mourinho’s sacking gave ammunition to those who believed the manager was the problem.

But Pogba hasn’t changed. Yet again he went out of his way to engineer a move out of Old Trafford this summer and his form this season – when fit – has been as hopelessly inconsistent as we came to expect from the Frenchman under Mourinho.

Pogba can’t claim that Mourinho didn’t try. The manager tried a raft of formations and midfield personnel in an effort to get the best out of the record signing, and even after Pogba told United he wanted to leave having returned to work with a World Cup winner’s medal fluffing his ego, Mourinho offered an olive branch in the form of the United vice-captaincy. Pogba (metaphorically we hope) wiped his arse with the armband.

But United don’t learn. The hierarchy at Old Trafford are reportedly ready to offer Pogba a pay-rise in a vain attempt to persuade him that his future lies with the Red Devils. But Pogba wants out and he could not have made it clearer, with his words or his form.

 

Marcus Rashford isn’t a natural centre-forward
When Mourinho signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Romelu Lukaku in each of his first two summers in charge at Old Trafford, the worry for many was what their arrival meant for Rashford’s prospects. Their concerns were misplaced.

Rashford ended up making more appearances under Mourinho than any other Manchester United player and played the fourth-highest number of minutes. The problem for some was that Rashford spent most of his time on the pitch shunted out wide.

Around 50 of the academy graduate’s 125 appearances under Mourinho came as a centre-forward, with 32 of those coming from the start. According to Transfermarkt, he averaged a goal every 219 minutes while leading the line. Hardly prolific numbers.

Mourinho recognised that Rashford’s qualities were more suited to a wide forward, a player who can lead breaks rather than one who can receive the ball with his back to goal. But Rashford still saw himself as a No.9. The ex-manager explained his thinking last month.

“I am not going to say he cannot ever be a number nine, he can be a dangerous number nine especially if the opposition is not pragmatic, is not close and is giving spaces to attack. He can be dangerous in transitions,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “But when Manchester United is a team that normally plays against teams who go to Old Trafford, close the door, bring the bus, bring the double bus, he is not a striker to play with his back to the goal.

“He is not the target man, he doesn’t score as many goals as a striker should do. So I think from the side you will get him to numbers of 10-12 goals per season.”

It seems Mourinho was right. Solskjaer immediately placed his faith in Rashford as his leading centre-forward – to Lukaku’s cost – but after an initial burst, the England attacker’s productivity has waned, as has his involvement in matches. Harry Maguire had more touches in the Newcastle box than Rashford – or any other United team-mate – on Sunday. Rashford looks so far off the pace as a leading striker that many people are assuming he is carrying an injury, despite Solskjaer’s insistence that he is 100 per cent fit.

The penny also appeared to have dropped with Solskjaer, who started the season with Martial as his starting centre-forward, with Rashford wide. But with Martial sidelined, Solskjaer has little option to persist with Rashford through the middle.

 

He knew Andreas Pereira wasn’t good enough
Mourinho had Pereira pegged as a continental Cleverley as soon as he got a decent look at the once-capped Brazil midfielder.

The 23-year-old spent the first two years of Mourinho’s United reign in Spain, initially with Granada before he defied the manager to go to Valencia for a season in 2017 – a decision which ‘disappointed’ Mourinho:  “His decision can be considered a young player who wants to play every weekend but also a young player that is not ready to fight for something difficult.”

Mourinho made his peace with Pereira’s choice and the manager offered the midfielder a chance to impress during United’s pre-season tour in 2018 while their World Cup players were still on holiday. In the United States, Pereira played as a No.6 where he eventually made his first Premier League start on the opening weekend. By the end of the following weekend, he was done in Mourinho’s mind. Pereira was hooked at half-time during a defeat which rang alarm bells at Old Trafford.

His next start came almost four months later when Mourinho rested key players for a Champions League group game at Valencia with qualification already assured. Back at the stadium he spent the previous season, Pereira was wretched. He was dropped again from Mourinho’s squad for the fateful trip to Liverpool, as he had been for the previous eight Premier League matches.

Solskjaer came in and having failed to convince Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, he was given a third opportunity. The current boss certainly appears to fancy the Belgium-born Brazilian more than the previous two managers – God only knows why. Pereira is a player without a position; he looks out of his depth wherever he is played. Fred may be the current poster boy for United’s slide but Pereira is equally as inept, as Mourinho quickly learned once he had the chance to see for himself.

 

He saw something in McTominay
When Mourinho brought Scott McTominay into his side and played him on an increasingly regular basis, even some within the club – his former academy team-mates among them – are understood to have been utterly baffled by what the manager saw in the gangly midfielder.

Not only did Mourinho play McTominay, he held the Scotland youngster up as an example to the rest of his high-profile, underperforming squad. Mourinho invented an award for McTominay at the end of the 2017-18 season, when United somehow finished second, so that he could be brought up on stage and paraded in front of the MUTV cameras as the template for his team-mates.

When Mourinho went, so too it was presumed would McTominay chances of regular involvement. Indeed, in his attempt to paint himself as the anti-Jose, Solskjaer used McTominay for a single minute in his first eight Premier League matches in charge.

But the midfielder has shown the kind of attitude and ‘special character’ that Mourinho saw in him to establish himself as one of the first names on Solskjaer’s team-sheet. Unfortunately for McTominay, any praise he receives is so often prefixed with “he’s no Keane/Robson/Scholes/Edwards” but he cannot be held accountable for the decline in standards at Old Trafford, especially while he is one of the few players trying to uphold them.

 

Ian Watson

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Paul Pogba has not travelled to Holland for Manchester United’s Europa League clash with AZ Alkmaar following specialist advice about a foot injury.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side continue their Group L campaign in The Hague on Thursday night, when the World Cup winner will be among a number of high-profile absentees.

Pogba played the entirety of last week’s Carabao Cup penalty shoot-out win against Rochdale and Monday’s 1-1 league draw with Arsenal, but an ongoing foot issue means he will not be heading with United to Holland.

The club said: “Following a specialist’s opinion, Paul Pogba requires a period of further rest and conservative treatment for the foot injury he sustained during the game against Southampton in August. Updates will follow in due course.”

Anthony Martial, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw are also absent for the Europa League clash, as is Aaron Wan-Bissaka after missing the Arsenal match with tonsillitis.

Diogo Dalot and Angel Gomes are available for Thursday’s clash, while 19-year-old Brandon Williams has been named in the squad.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Manchester City forward Bernardo Silva should face action over a tweet directed at team-mate Benjamin Mendy, anti-discrimination group Kick It Out has said.

The Portugal international posted a message on the social media platform with a picture of a young Mendy alongside a separate image of the mascot of a Spanish confectionery brand.

Silva received immediate criticism for the post and later deleted it, with a follow-up message reading: “Can’t even joke with a friend these days… You guys…”

Kick It Out issued a statement on the subject on Monday morning which read: “We are extremely disappointed to see the tweet posted by Bernardo Silva, which has since been deleted.

“Racist stereotypes are never acceptable as ‘banter’, and we’re shocked that someone who is a role model to millions has failed to understand the discriminatory nature of his post.

“The FA have been notified and we believe that retrospective action should be taken, including mandatory education – which is vital to challenge offensive behaviour such as this.”

The Silva post comes after initial meetings were held between the Football Association, Premier League, the EFL and Twitter following a series of online abuse aimed at black players since the start of the season.

Manchester United’s Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford are among the players who have been targeted, along with Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Kurt Zouma.

The FA described the meeting as “productive and positive”.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has defended Paul Pogba over the missed penalty which cost Manchester United three points at Wolves.

Pogba saw his second half spot-kick saved by Rui Patricio after an apparent debate with Marcus Rashford over who should step up to take it.

After watching his side take a deserved lead through Anthony Martial only to be pegged back by Ruben Neves, Solskjaer dismissed the penalty confusion, insisting both Pogba and Rashford are designated to take spot-kicks for the club.

Solskjaer said: “The two of them are designated the penalty shooters and it’s up to them there and then who feels ‘this is mine’.

“Sometimes players just feel they are confident enough to score – Paul has scored so many penalties for us and today Rui Patricio made a good save.

“The two of them have been very confident. I like players with confidence and the feeling that ‘I can do this’.”

Rashford added: “Paul wanted to take it – it’s that simple.

“Everybody can miss a penalty. He’s scored countless penalties for us so it’s normal to miss one.

“I took one last week so for me it’s no problem for him to take one this week. It’s unfortunate he didn’t score but it’s not on him, it’s as a team and we take it forward to the next game.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

Why wouldn’t you want to watch this one? It is without doubt the biggest fixture of the opening weekend and Sky Sports have saved it until last.

Chelsea have been less active in the summer than usual due to a transfer ban, and have lost both their manager, Maurizio Sarri, and star player, Eden Hazard. Christian Pulisic arrived before the ban to replace the latter, and club legend Frank Lampard has stepped into the managerial breach.

They may also be more reliant on younger talent than previous years, which makes for an exciting prospect.

Man Utd have had a mixed summer. They have failed to land top attacking targets and haven’t been able to off-load expensive wantaway duo Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku.

They have, though, acquired Harry Maguire – from Leicester City – making him the most expensive defender in history in the process. Daniel James, an £18million signing from Swansea, looks an exciting talent too, and they have managed to prise Aaron Wan-Bisska away from Crystal Palace to hopefully solve their right-back struggles.

The 4pm kick-off is a blockbuster way to end the first weekend of the season, and it’s one you’re unlikely going to want to miss.

 

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is considering Paul Pogba for the captaincy, despite the Manchester United’s midfielder desire to leave this summer.

Marcus Rashford’s fine strike was followed by an impressive James Garner effort as the Red Devils opened pre-season with a victory far more comfortable than the 2-0 scoreline against Perth Glory suggests.

Pogba came on at half-time as Solskjaer completely rotated his side at the huge Optus Stadium, where the World Cup winner received a largely warm reception despite publicly admitting his openness to “a new challenge somewhere else”.

Agent Mino Raiola compounded matters by talking about how he is working to get his client a move, but Solskjaer says he would still consider the midfielder for a leadership role this season.

“No, it hasn’t (been decided),” the United boss said of the captaincy, having seen Antonio Valencia depart in the summer

“So we’ve got quite a few possibilities there and when the season starts we’ll announce.

“Of course we’ll have a good assessment, see how pre-season goes, so there we go.

“But, as you saw, Ashley (Young) will wear it when he’s playing until we decide on someone, yeah.”

Asked if Pogba is under consideration for the role, Solskjaer said: “Yeah.”

The France midfielder regularly captained United at the start of the 2018-19 season, only for Jose Mourinho to swiftly take away any vice-captain responsibilities as their relationship deteriorated.

Pushed further on Pogba’s resuming a captaincy position, Solskjaer added: “Well, I don’t think that needs explaining. We’ll discuss that later on.”

The club-record signing was asked for an interview as he made his way out of Optus Stadium, but simply responded: “No need”. Pogba said similar to another reporter.

Speculation about outgoings will continue throughout the tour, while Solskjaer kept his cards close to his chest when it came to signings.

PA understands that United are still trying to sign Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire, while they are scouring the market for a midfielder.

“I think you need to speak to Ed (Woodward, executive vice-chairman) or others,” the United boss said about transfers.

“At the moment, I can’t give you any updates, no.

“Well, timing is obviously an issue but we’re working, as I’ve said before, so of course we’re optimistic.”

Solskjaer was more forthcoming when it came to the performance of his squad in their pre-season opener, with Daniel James impressing and Aaron Wan-Bissaka showing signs of promise in their first match in a United shirt.

“Both the new lads did well, both Dan and Aaron,” he said, having confirmed Luke Shaw went off with a hamstring issue.

“You had Mason (Greenwood), Angel (Gomes), Jimmy (Garner), you know the young lads, Chongy [Tahith Chong].

“I think they also showed that they can make it as a Man United player and the more experienced ones did a job because we got 45 minutes out of most and it was a professional workout from everyone.”

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

SHAMBLES
Mediawatch assumed that Manchester United releasing the full footage of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard’s supposed ‘public spat’ on the pre-season tour of Perth would bring an end to this tiresome line of reporting.

After all, does this really look like the furious bust-up it was framed as?

There they are, at each other’s throats, smiling, laughing and generally being unable to stand one another’s company.

Mediawatch is, of course, stupid. Why would The Sun see the above and admit they made about 427 mountains out of a single molehill when they can duly double down on this emergency?

‘Land Down Blunders’ is the headline to a double-page spread on Wednesday, with the tagline of ‘UNITED OZ TOUR SHAMBLES’. Have we missed something?

The sub-headlines offer yet more misery:

‘JESSE TRIES TO SHRUG OFF POGBA ROW’ – because there wasn’t one.

‘LINDELOF’S READY TO GO, CLAIMS AGENT’ – who says nothing of the sort.

All of this accompanies an article from Neil Custis which gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘artistic license’.

‘Just as one player tried to make peace, another was throwing a spanner in the works,’ he begins.

‘In fact, there are so many spanners being tossed around at Manchester United right now,’ he continues, resisting the obvious gag, ‘it is a wonder the big red machine is moving at all.’

‘Well, it has been moving – but unfortunately in the wrong direction. And the build-up to the new season does not suggest that is going to be reversed.’

Yep, they’re absolutely sh*te. Although Custis did say ‘United have been made into a team to be feared again’ in February. Still, carry on.

‘Shortly after the team landed here in Perth on Monday and went for a walk to stretch their legs following the 16-hour flight, the video of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard arguing and being separated by Victor Lindelof emerged.’

It did not ’emerge’; it was literally posted by Manchester United’s official Twitter account. And it was not a video of them arguing; it was a video of the squad walking around that potentially showed a couple of seconds of two players having a heated discussion – a theory which has since been disproved.

Oh, and the claim that Lindelof ‘separated’ them is a load of b*llocks and you know it. They weren’t squaring up outside Wetherspoons in Manchester city centre at 2am on Saturday morning.

‘Twenty four hours later, United did not feel they needed to delete the footage from their social media accounts.’

Because that would have been the most stupid idea possible, giving rise to suggestions that there had been some sort of altercation. They ‘did not feel they needed to delete the footage from their social media accounts’ because they released an extended version that proved there was no problem.

‘Lingard was quick to post a picture on Twitter yesterday of him training next to Pogba, as if to say they were still pals.’

It’s almost as if they’re still…ah, forget it. There are two pictures on this article alone showing them both next to each other. Pogba is doing kick-ups as Lingard watches on in one, and we are told that ‘Pog shows off’. The flashy get.

‘Soon there was more trouble as peacemaker Lindelof’s agent Hasan Cetinkaya said: “Lindelof is on the radar of a great European club, but leaving United depends on the English club.”

‘It could be pointed out that he is already at a great European club but the agent is clearly stoking the fire of rumours that Barcelona are interested in signing the Swede, who moved to Old Trafford from Benfica in 2017.’

Can a pot tell a kettle that they’re ‘stoking the fire’?

But enough about Lindelof, who is ‘just another unwanted distraction’. This is about Pogba, whose ‘demeanour’ before the tour ‘suggested he was less than keen’ on heading to Australia to get annoyed by Jesse Lingard.

‘Indeed, it was reported he had told team-mates last week that he was not coming at all.’

That’s nice. You do realise he’s there though, don’t you?

‘Coaching staff were holding their breath on Sunday as to whether the club’s record £89m signing would turn up. That is some way to treat a club that pays you £290,000 a week.’

Neil, he’s there. He’s on the tour. He’s with the club. What are you on about?

Of course, the Frenchman ‘does not seem to be alone in wanting out of United’. David de Gea ‘has still not signed a new contract’, Romelu Lukaku ‘is looking to move to Italy’, Ander Herrera ‘has already gone to Paris Saint-Germain’ and ‘the club are keeping their fingers crossed on’ someone coming along to pay Alexis Sanchez’s ridiculous wages.

So that’s one player United want to keep, two players United want to sell and one player United did not show enough intent to keep before he left. Along with Pogba, who is apparently staying, this is clearly a ‘mass exodus’.

The problems really do ‘just seem to mount up’. Particularly when you invent at least half of them, Neil.

 

Wheeler dealer
Let Chris Wheeler show Custis how it’s done (in the Daily Mail‘s solitary page of football coverage).

‘There was uncertainty that Pogba would even show up for the tour but he reported for duty on Sunday.’

Making it clear Pogba has not actually done anything wrong. Lovely.

‘He was then involved in a supposed spat with team-mate Jesse Lingard that transpired to be nothing more than friendly banter when the United players went on a walkabout following their arrival.’

Pointing out that the ‘supposed spat’ actually ‘transpired to be nothing more than friendly banter’. Delightful.

‘Victor Lindelof was the third player involved in the video clip and the Sweden defender’s own future at United was called into question when his agent confirmed interest from a top European club – believed to Barcelona if they lose out to Juventus over Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt.’

But ‘LINDELOF’S READY TO GO’,  yeah?

‘”Lindelof is in the orbit of a great European club, but leaving United depends on the English club,” said agent Hasan Cetinkaya, presumably a reference to United’s pursuit of Leicester’s Harry Maguire.’

Suggesting that the quote is likely more to do with United signing someone else than Lindelof wanting to leave? Wonderful.

Three huge issues worthy of a double-page spread in one desperate newspaper, and clarified as absolutely nothing by another happy to simply report on other sports instead of pretending something is happening. Textbook.

 

Mirror, Mirror
But here is David McDonnell of the Daily Mirror to prove that more than one newspaper is willing to completely ignore context and fact to pretend that Manchester United are in crisis.

‘Victor Lindelof has piled more misery on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after his agent claimed he is being targeted by Barcelona.’

‘Agent says really big club wants to sign a player he represents’ really is a miserable state of affairs.

‘With Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku already trying to quit Old Trafford this summer, and David de Gea so far refusing to sign a new deal, the Manchester United boss is fighting to hold his squad together.’

Losing three players from a 28-man squad – and receiving plenty of money to reinvest in replacements – really would be cataclysmic.

‘The Sweden star’s agent, Hassan Cetinkaya, claimed Lindelof could move on this summer, suggesting the 24-year-old is keen to make the switch.’

He suggested no such thing.

‘A spat between Pogba and Jesse Lingard – filmed and posted on the club’s official social media feeds – hinted at further tensions.’

For fu…

 

Stay with me
Pogba even makes The Sun‘s back page because, well, obviously.

‘STAY!’ is the headline as we are told that ‘Paul Pogba will be asked to wait a year before quitting Manchester United.’

Fair enough. It worked with Cristiano Ronaldo a decade ago and with countless other players. It will show that they’re in control of the situation as they get another year out of a clearly talented player, whose ambition to leave will be realised eventually. There have been worse ideas.

‘Right now the midfielder, who is unhappy at being on United’s summer tour to Australia, is going nowhere.’

Yep, he’s miserable. So very, very miserable. And nice one. This is United’s and Solskjaer’s decision, then?

‘Italian giants Juve do not have the cash to fund a deal for the player they sold back to United three years ago.

‘Real boss Zinedine Zidane is also on record as being an admirer of his fellow Frenchman. But he has already blown most of his £300m transfer budget since returning to the Bernabeu.

‘And United have not had an approach from either Real or Juventus for Pogba – who was filmed having a spat with team-mate Jesse Lingard after they landed in Perth (No he f***ing wasn’t).’

So United are deciding to keep a player for one year…because they’ve had no offers for him and his two potential suitors can’t afford it? A rare victory for this absolute SHAMBLES of a club.

 

You’re kidding?
The efforts of the MailOnline in not pretending Manchester United are about to fold is appreciated. Their definition of ‘kids’ needs some work, mind.

‘The 25-goal hot-shot, a rampaging right-back, classy midfielders and a dreadlocked defender – meet the kids looking to break into Chelsea’s first team as Lampard plans his assault on the Premier League’ is the rather wordy headline to an article that puts forward the cases of Ian Maatsen (17), Ethan Ampadu (18), Marc Guehi (18), Billy Gilmour (18), Dujon Sterling (19), Jamie Cumming (19) and Conor Gallagher (19), among many others. They are hardly ‘kids’ in a traditional sense, but football logic dictates that any teenager is basically still a child.

Mediawatch can even let Mason Mount (20), Ike Ugbo (20) and Trevoh Chalobah (20) go; they are certainly young. But a line surely has to be drawn at Lewis Baker, the 24-year-old ‘kid’ who made his debut five and a half years ago.

 

Roll the Dyche
The following is presented to you entirely without comment. Good lord:

 

Recommended reading of the day
Caitlin Murray on Jill Ellis.

Melissa Reddy on Tottenham.

 

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Posted in EPL, FA Premier League

As a leading player among the established elite, Manchester United would likely baulk at the prospect of imitating nouveau-riche Paris-Saint Germain. But despite rising to power from contrasting backgrounds, the two clubs currently have more in common than the Red Devils might be prepared to admit.

United and PSG are in the unfamiliar position of finding themselves on the sh*tty end of the transfer saga stick, bogged down in palavers which threaten to overshadow pivotal summers for both clubs. The hierarchies in Manchester and Paris would rather the world focused on them flexing their own financial muscles as they pillage other clubs but, instead, both boards are preoccupied by attempts by Spanish giants to plunder their prized assets.

Neymar and Paul Pogba are each desperate to leave PSG and United respectively and neither are afraid to say it. Both have spoken of their desire for ‘new challenges’, Neymar seeking another only two years after he arrived in Paris looking for his last one.

There is one crucial difference amid the ever-changing landscape of the transfer window. Pogba reluctantly reported for United duty at the end of his summer holidays; Neymar interpreted PSG’s summons back to Paris as a request rather than a demand. Subsequently, he is officially AWOL.

Pogba certainly looked as though he would rather be anywhere else when he returned to Carrington on Sunday morning before being ushered onto the plane which took the midfielder and his United team-mates as far away from Manchester as they could feasibly travel. His presence in Australia grants United further licence to maintain their ‘nothing to see here’ stance over Pogba’s future. But refusing to acknowledge the problem in public does not resolve a huge problem in the dressing room.

Ed Woodward and his minions within the boardroom seem to view Pogba’s desire to quit as a personal affront. In many ways it is. The France star, like everyone outside the club, has observed the shambles enveloping Old Trafford – though he evidently lacks the self-awareness to recognise his role in its development – and he does not want his reputation to be tarnished by association any further.

United’s attempts to save face by refusing to publicly acknowledge the Pogba problem are having the opposite of the desired effect. It is widely reported that United would be willing to sell their record signing for a hefty profit on the £89million they paid Juventus three years ago but Woodward is too proud to say so. Which is strange because a sale of anything close to £150million would represent savvy business, which is what United value most these days.

Instead, while Pogba’s stated desire for a move hangs over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad while Mino Raiola blows enough hot air to keep the discontent rising, United are maintaining what they presumably see as a dignified silence.

PSG, on the other hand, confronted their problem head on and, consequently, seized control of an unwanted situation.

Within hours of Neymar’s no-show on Monday, the Parisians had responded with a pitch-perfect statement of their regret and the promise of recrimination for the world’s most expensive player. Almost immediately, sporting director Leonardo doubled down on the club’s stance.

“Only one thing is certain today: he is under contract with us for three years. And since we have not received an offer, there is nothing to discuss.

“We have not received any offers. But we have had, it is true, superficial contact (with Barcelona). They said they want to buy him but that we are not selling. It was [Barca president] Bartomeu who said that. But we have not seen that Barcelona are truly in a position to buy him.

“A move of this magnitude is not just a question of emotions. It is a financial question. Neymar can leave PSG, if there is an offer which suits everyone. But up to now, we do not know if anyone wants to buy him, or at what price. It will not be done in a day, that’s for sure.

“PSG want to count on players who want to be here and build something big. We do not need players who are doing a favour to the club by being here.”

Leonardo could barely have stated any more clearly PSG’s reluctant readiness to part with their most-talented player. But rather than paint the Parisians as surrendering or submissive, PSG have now assumed the high ground.

If Woodward is struggling to find the words to address United’s Pogba problem, he should simply lift Leonardo’s statement, replacing the words ‘Neymar’, ‘PSG’, ‘Barcelona’, ‘Bartomeu’ and ‘three years’ with ‘Pogba’, ‘United’, ‘Real Madrid’, ‘Perez’ and ‘two years’.

Immediately, it would lift the Pogba fog (Fogba? No, sorry…) currently stretching the 15,000 miles from Old Trafford to Perth while shifting the spotlight on to Florentino Perez. Real have willfully fluffed Pogba’s ego and the player’s belief that a deal will be done, despite demonstrating little appetite to stump up the necessary funds.

Real’s approach in this instance, unlike the other five big-money transfers they have completed so far this summer, seems to be to wait and play on Pogba’s desperation and United’s exasperation as the deadline approaches. The Red Devils’ silence only serves to encourage Perez to sit tight.

In the meantime, United’s pre-season preparations will mostly be spent on the back foot while PSG run with the initiative.

Ian Watson

 

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