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De Ligt, Pogba & Man Utd: Why Woodward's olive branch can see this happen

COMMENT: Matthijs de Ligt and Manchester United? Well, we know they're talking. No, no, not De Ligt, himself, but we do know his agent and United's vice-chairman exec have buried the hatchet in recent weeks.

Erling Haaland? Paul Pogba? The names were floated at the time as it emerged United's dealmaker Ed Woodward had chosen to rebuild a line of communication with Mino Raiola. Angry, frustrated with the constant sniping earlier in the season, Woodward had shut down all contact with the agent, refusing to take his calls. But after a few weeks of the cold shoulder and signs that Raiola was pulling back from his criticism of the club and their refusal to cave into his demands for Pogba's sale, contact between the two men resumed. The subject of their discussions hasn't been nailed on. The sources involved only insisting the pair are again talking.

But the assumption has been it was all motivated by United's plans to move Pogba on this summer. Though some also speculated that Haaland, after delivering a very public snub to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the United manager, over the New Year could come back into the equation. This despite being less than six months into his Borussia Dortmund contract.

But what about a third client of Raiola's? The Dutchman of Juventus?

Well, his name has been raised. Nothing solid, but the interest is there. How has he settled? Is he happy? What of the media pressure? Simple enquiries. Just to see the lay of the land.

But this one does have legs. The prospect of Pogba moving to Turin ahead of Real Madrid far more likely if De Ligt becomes a willing participant. Something that has been relayed to Raiola.

And as we say, this does have legs. United are prepared to part with Pogba - but not on the cheap. All those reports of the Frenchman's valuation being dramatically slashed generating a reaction of laughter and scorn from United sources.

"What? Where are they getting their models from?" one insider told this column. "It's fairytale stuff. No-one will know how things spring back until it actually happens..."

In other words, the idea that Juve can ferry Pogba back to Turin for 25m quid - as some are claiming - is the stuff of fantasy calcio. United and Woodward will insist on a proper price. Try four times that amount and we're getting closer. But the problem is, unlike United, Juve's finances are being hit hard by this coronavirus suspension. And if they're to bring Pogba back - they'll have to get creative.

Fabio Paratici, Juve's ambitious, young sporting director, said as much just last week: “There will be many swap deals, a situation that will bring football closer to the NBA..."

It was suggested Paratici was speaking for the whole of Europe, but it was really about Italy - and the Bianconeri.

Andrea Agnelli, the Juve president, so roused by the impact Cristiano Ronaldo has had on the club's share price, can spy the same from Pogba's return (the projections are enormous). He knows the money involved. And he'll also know so does Woodward. United won't want to be short-changed. Agnelli will have to make it worth their while.

Which is where De Ligt enters the picture. A player coveted by both Solskjaer and Woodward last summer. Only for United to step away from an auction which saw De Ligt leave Ajax for a fee rising to €85.5m.

But the interest has been maintained. Solskjaer, as we're getting to know, isn't one for B and C lists of transfer targets. He'll wait and wait... and wait some more for the player he truly wants. It may not be De Ligt, but it will be someone in that category. Yet now, with Pogba's situation coming to a head - and Juve's finances as they are - an opportunity has fallen into United's lap.

But they'll still have some work to do. Not the least after Marcel Bout's assessment of De Ligt's body shape while still an Ajax player. The United scout's reporting this season reaching De Ligt, who responded with: "Suddenly even my father was too fat, and that's why one of the club's didn't want me because they apparently though I'd have the same tendency.

"Every day there was something new. It just makes you go 'come on, man'."

But on the other side, United also have a trump card - Sir Alex Ferguson. It was Fergie who encouraged Jose Mourinho to move for De Ligt after United's Europa League final victory over Ajax in 2017. And just as they've done with Birmingham City's teen Jude Bellingham, if United need to lean on their former manager to mend some bridges with the De Ligt family, he'll do so willingly.

As one globetrotting agent told this column just Saturday, "these are crazy times". And these times will reward those who are creative.

Raiola, just as Agnelli, will know if Pogba is to return to Turin, Juve are going to have to make a hefty sacrifice. Those ongoing conversations between Woodward and Raiola aren't just centring around the Frenchman...

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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