Manchester United have signed Juventus’ Paul Pogba for £ 89.3m to make them a Premier League contender in 2016 but five years later the French midfielder’s sacking is now key to their title prospects.
Raising £ 50m or more by allowing Pogba to leave the club before his contract expires in June 2022 could mean the difference between making one or two priority signings – Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane – or having the resources to stand up for move other targets, including Kieran Trippier, Eduardo Camavinga and Jules Kounde.
Sources have told ESPN that United’s owners, the Glazer family, have given manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a £ 100m transfer fund for the summer window, but that number is topped up by any monies raised by the players’ departures from who are believed to have no future at Old Trafford.
There are a number of players United are happy to let go if they get the right offer. Jesse Lingard, Brandon Williams, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles, Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira, Daniel James and possibly Anthony Martial could all leave United this summer if an acceptable offer is received to sign. United also has four senior goalkeepers on their books after Tom Heaton’s free transfer from Aston Villa, so Dean Henderson or David de Gea could also get out on loan or permanently.
But Pogba is the likely game changer for United because of the transfer that the 28-year-old still dominates in the transfer market.
It looks like United have already spent £ 72.9m of their £ 100m fund by signing England winger Sancho from Borussia Dortmund. The club are still trying to negotiate a fee with Real Madrid for signing Varane, with the Spanish club facing an unrealistic £ 60million for the center-back entering the final year of his contract, but Real have to raise money for theirs own recovery program, this deal is likely to be in the $ 40 million range at some point.
If United can settle a fee of around £ 40million for the French defender, the summer spending would be more than £ 110million so they will have to find a way to raise more money to make more signings.
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Outsourcing fringe players will only bring in so much, with Lingard likely to bring in the most after his impressive loan from West Ham last season. If United can raise £ 20m on Lingard’s exit, they could reasonably expect to bring their outgoing businesses to the £ 50m mark by letting Williams, Dalot, Telles, Jones, Pereira and James depart. Martial might also raise around £ 25million, but there isn’t a line of clubs waiting to spend that kind of money to sign the inconsistent French striker amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But while Football Director John Murtough and Technical Director Darren Fletcher have helped bring United more focus on recruiting this summer as deals have already been signed for Sancho and Heaton, the reality remains that the Glazers and outgoing Vice Chairman Ed Woodward have the finals telling you on the ins and outs.
Murtough and Fletcher have done a lot of work for Woodward by focusing on the daily challenges facing the players, but transfer policy continues to be set by the Glazers and Woodward is still the gatekeeper between the recruiting staff and owners.
The message from above is clear: money needs to be raised by downsizing the squad to spend more on signings beyond Heaton, Sancho and Varane. This is why Pogba’s future is so crucial to Solskjaer’s hopes of building a title-winning squad this summer.
ESPN FC’s Mark Ogden explains what would be a successful season for Jadon Sancho after joining Manchester United.
Sources have told ESPN that the United hierarchy has little confidence that Pogba will sign a new deal before it expires in less than 12 months. Publicly it is said that a new deal is underway but the reality is that United will let him go if Paris Saint-Germain pulls off his attempt to sign the player.
Pogba’s departure would undoubtedly result in United losing one of the best midfielders in the world, but he has rarely met that reckoning since arriving from Juventus with a then-record transfer of £ 89.3m in August 2016.
The money his exit could generate would give Solskjaer an additional £ 90m to £ 100m for this summer on top of the £ 50million chance raised through other outbound transfers, and that sum could open the door for arrival from Trippier, Camavinga, Open and Kounde.
United would also see their wage bills cut by £ 300,000 a week – £ 15.6 million a year – if Pogba kept going, and those savings could help pay for the majority of the wages of two or three signings.
Many other clubs are in the same situation, trying to move players before they can use them. Manchester City are examining which players could help land top targets Harry Kane and Jack Grealish, while Real Madrid and Barcelona also have to work hard on business decisions that usually only weigh on smaller clubs.
However, United’s main problem is finding clubs that would take their fringes and Pogba. PSG are the only team with a confirmed interest in Pogba, though he could still be used in a swap deal for Varane if Real continue to keep United waiting.
As for the rest of the players Solskjaer is ready to let go, you may have to wait until the final days of the next month’s transfer window before the deals take effect. Whether United can wait that long is a different matter, but sanctioning Pogba’s departure in the coming weeks could be the move that will stand out for Solskjaer and his chances of delivering the title or trophy to Old Trafford next season, makes a huge difference.