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France midfielder’s future at Manchester United is under increasing scrutiny

Pogba is no Ronaldo, so don’t treat him like he is

United are still in a fight to make it into the Champions League next season.

In Summary

• While it would be wrong to lay the blame solely at Pogba’s feet, equally, it does not sound like the level of return that merits an escalation to £460,000-a-week.

• It’s the biggest call of the summer: to keep Pogba happy or let him become Real Madrid’s latest expensive problem.

Paul Pogba during a recent training session
Paul Pogba during a recent training session
Image: /REUTERS

 Depending on your information service, Paul Pogba is either agitating for a move to Real Madrid, or agitating to have his salary doubled at Manchester United. Either way, he is a problem that needs sorting.

And, without doubt, he has looked better under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Better, yes — but twice as good as the player Manchester United thought they had captured when he signed? Hardly.

It could be argued we haven’t actually seen that player because Pogba was considered the type of midfield powerhouse who could propel United to the title under Jose Mourinho.

As it stands, even with the Solskjaer-inspired resurgence, United are still in a fight to make it into the Champions League next season. And while it would be wrong to lay the blame solely at Pogba’s feet, equally, it does not sound like the level of return that merits an escalation to £460,000-a-week.

That is the figure being mentioned to secure Pogba’s next contract, which probably means it is the figure he has been told he could earn with Real Madrid. Maybe he could get even more, if he publicly flirts with the idea of signing for longer at Old Trafford.

He wouldn’t be the first. Yet is he worth it? Does anything we have seen from Pogba so far suggest he should be rewarded in this way? He is having a good second half of the season. Yet any Footballer of the Year shortlist would have to burn through a page or more of names before alighting on his.

And for close to £2m each month isn’t that what Manchester United should be getting? The best. More influential than Virgil van Dijk, improving faster than Raheem Sterling, more valuable to his team than Eden Hazard. A player at the pinnacle of his game. Is that Pogba? Not yet, it isn’t.

It’s not Alexis Sanchez either, yet it is his salary that has set the benchmark for wages at Old Trafford, his arrival that sent the rest of the squad scuttling to their agents for renegotiations. Yet Sanchez hasn’t proved worth his wage, so why should United feel compelled to make the same mistake twice? They cannot continue to be the club that is panicked into costly manoeuvres.

Maybe it is time Ed Woodward tried calling a few bluffs. If Real Madrid want Pogba, and Pogba’s people think he is a £460,000 player, then ask for a fee apposite to his status. Because Pogba isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo. When United lost Ronaldo they must have feared coming up against him in the Champions League again. And those fears proved correct.

Ronaldo has won the Champions League four times since he left, Manchester United zero. Nor have they defeated Real Madrid in their three meetings since Ronaldo changed sides. And in the two games he started, he scored. Is that what we could expect from Pogba in opposition? Would he change the dynamic at his new club?

Would he leave United among Europe’s also-rans? He would have to be a different player to the one we have seen; one capable of the odd moment of devastation such as the killer passes against Tottenham and West Ham, but also periods of anonymity.

Pogba was excellent as Manchester United went on a record-breaking run that got Solskjaer his permanent gig, but he also played every minute as United lost four games in five against Arsenal, Barcelona and Wolves, twice. His prolific scoring run also came to an end until Saturday’s penalties.

He last scored from open play on February 18, against Chelsea in the FA Cup. And he’s an excellent player.

Nothing here denies that. What must be judged is whether he is a player worth £460,000-a-week to Manchester United, when there can be no guarantee he will not become detached or inconsistent, as certainly seemed to happen when Mourinho was in charge.

Since the talk of Madrid began — which Pogba has done little to discourage — it could even be argued his form has already suffered. It’s the biggest call of the summer: to keep Pogba happy or let him become Real Madrid’s latest expensive problem.