Paul Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, has claimed it will be best for the midfielder and Manchester United if the 27-year-old leaves in January as he is unhappy and can “no longer express” himself at the club.
The comments are believed to be part of an interview Raiola has conducted with Italian newspaper Tuttosport and which will be published in full on Tuesday. They will not go down well at United and especially as the team’s focus is meant to be on preparing for a crucial Champions League fixture with RB Leipzig.
Given Pogba’s struggles at United since returning to the club for a then world-record £93.2m fee in the summer of 2016, it would be no surprise to see him depart from Old Trafford. But the earliest that was expected to happen was in the summer – Raiola is instead calling for it for it to occur when the winter transfer window opens on 2 January.
“It is useless to go around it,” he has reportedly told Tuttosport. “Better to speak clearly, look ahead and not waste time looking for culprits. Paul at Manchester United is unhappy, he is no longer able to express himself as he would like and as expected of him. He has to change teams, he has to change the air.
“He has a contract that will expire in a year and a half, in the summer of 2022, but I believe the best solution for the parties is to sell it to the next market. Otherwise, the Old Trafford club, with which relations are excellent, knows that they would risk losing him on a free transfer, given that for the moment it is not the player’s intention to extend the contract. If someone doesn’t understand it – they understand very little about football. In any case, let them blame me if Paul leaves next summer.”
Raiola has criticised the direction of United ever since Pogba’s transfer there four years ago and his client may well have been sold this summer but for the effect of the pandemic on the finances of potential buyers. Earlier this season, United triggered a one-year extension clause in Pogba’s contract until summer 2022 to guard against losing him as a free agent at the end of the campaign.
Meanwhile, Harry Maguire says United are not thinking about the Europa League, with the captain expecting their big players to step up against Leipzig on Tuesday and ensure qualification for the Champions League last 16.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s team require a point in Germany to guarantee passage to the last 16, but know if they lose they will drop into Europe’s second-tier competition. It would be a dire scenario for a club of United’s ambition and when asked about it, their captain struck a bullish note, pointing out how United won at Leicester on the final day of last season to finish third as proof of their ability to win when it truly counts.
“I joined this club to play in the biggest games possible,” said Maguire. “Your big players step up in the biggest games and I think that’s a statement we’ve made over the years. It is similar to Leicester when we had to get a result to reach the Champions League – we managed to do that, so we will take confidence from that.
“We feel ready and prepared and we’re looking forward to it. We haven’t thought about the Europa League. We’re just fully focused on the game and we’re going in prepared and wanting to get through to the knockout stages.”
Solskjær echoed the sentiment. “Knockout games or games like this that give a chance to go through are big,” he said. “The players are Manchester United players because they have qualities we look for and I’m sure tomorrow night will prove the reason why they are here – they will show it. The character of the group is getting better and better and we’re looking forward to the game. It’s something that we want, games like this.”
United would have already qualified were it not for their shock 2-1 defeat away to Basaksehir, with both of the goals they conceded down to dismal defending. “It’s tradition for Manchester United: we never make it easy for ourselves,” added Solskjær. “We look at the games – especially Istanbul away when we could have got three points [but] that’s just the way we do things. We make it hard for ourselves – that’s been true since I played here [from 1996].”
United’s victory at West Ham on Saturday was their fifth consecutive away win in the league in which they had first fallen behind. Solskjær believes his team’s refusal to surrender may play on Leipzig minds should they again concede the opener at the Red Bull Arena. “We’re just working hard to get into people’s heads that [this] mighthappen [a comeback] so they can’t switch off,” he said. “Man United has a tradition and history of this and opponents would know about that as well. I can definitely see those traits returning – the belief coming back.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve come back and how many goals we’ve scoredin the last 10 or 15 minutes but it’s a lot, that’s a big difference from last season. We spoke about that at the start of the season – we need those extra points that can give us. It’s been very important so far.”
Maguire said: “We’ve shown great character to come from behind in all these away games and will need this character, spirit and confidence against Leipzig – a team who are very good at home. But we have great belief in ourselves that we can go there and get the result required to go through to the knockout stages.”
In October’s reverse match United soundly beat Julian Nagelsmann’s side 5-0. “It’s a game we will remember fondly because we did many things right,” reflected Solskjær. “We need to do lots of things right again and we should also correct a few wrongs. We know Leipzig well enough to know they’re unpredictable in their shape and system but, we know the players and the style they play in so know it’s going to be a tough game and we need to be at our best to get a good result.”
David de Gea is fit again after a knee problem caused him to miss the West Ham win, with Luke Shaw also travelling following a month layoff due to a hamstring strain. Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial have “niggles” so are not in the squad, meaning Solskjær will choose between Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to lead the line.