COMMENT: Another international week. And yet again, another week of stories revolving around Paul Pogba talking up Real Madrid. Only this time. This week. Manchester United's No6 was well and truly stitched up...
Is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer upset? Ed Woodward exasperated? No. Why? Because this time, Pogba was turned over. He was turned over by the headline writers. The scribes. And even his own French Football Federation (FFF). Yes, in his media conference this week he did respond to questions about Real Madrid. But in that response there was also an awful lot more about United and his ambitions for the club.
We've been critical of the United midfielder in this column. And regularly. But this time, for this saga, Paul Pogba is no villain.
Indeed, another approach. Another headline. And you could legitimately describe this past media conference as Pogba making a plea to vice-chairman Woodward to put a new contract in front of him. Instead of headlines screaming about the Frenchman again pushing for a Madrid move, they could be written as Pogba signaling to his manager, Solskjaer, that he's eager to take on a fresh leadership role.
Real Madrid was mentioned, sure. But that was in response to a direct question. And the answer was brief. Where he did expand was on his contract and his commitment to Solskjaer's project.
With the FFF removing all barriers, those in front of Pogba were able to ask him about Real's marathon pursuit. In France it hasn't been covered as extensively as in England and Spain - and there's a particular curiosity due to the personalities and local connection involved. Pogba's ambitions regarding Madrid are no secret. And Zinedine Zidane's admiration and his wish to work with his countryman at Real is also a matter publicly confirmed. Of course with the shackles off (were United's communication team across this at all?), local reporters were going to push the player about the whole drama...
"What can I say about it?" Pogba shrugged when asked, "Yes, all footballers would love to play for Real Madrid. It might be a dream.
"It is a dream for me, why not one day?"
And that was it. There was the headline. The story. The betrayal. Pogba had sold out United again.
But then, he continued talking - unprompted. There was no break for the reporter to follow up with another question. Pogba kept going.
So instead of fallout from this presser being Pogba touting himself to Zizou and Madrid, it could so easily have centred on how happy he is being part of this United dressing room and his determination to lead the club back to the summit.
And it didn't end there. Indeed for this column, what was said next was the real bombshell from this briefing.
"I have not spoken with Ed Woodward," he declared. "We have not talked about a renewal. For now, I am in Manchester and I mainly think about getting back to the best of my form.
"I think there will be a moment when the club will come and talk to me and maybe offer me something, or not. So far, nothing has happened. I can't tell you something that I don't know."
So hang on. All that speculation about Pogba suspending new contract talks. All those reports about he and his agent, Mino Raiola, delaying things as they pushed the likes of Real and Juventus to firm up their interest. It's all wrong? It's not actually the player's camp which are stalling, but the club? Woodward? And all with Pogba now well inside the final year of his current deal.
That's the story. That's the headline. Especially after the summer market United fans just endured. Management are again slow-walking things. Okay, the club do boast an option to automatically renew Pogba's deal unilaterally. But that's no way to treat one of your senior players. Indeed, the way Pogba spoke, it sounds like he doesn't even know if the board want him around long-term.
Yet instead, it was the response to a direct question about Real Madrid that has dominated United reporting ever since.
Now this column is all for open communication. The more the better. But Pogba - and even United - were well and truly stitched up by the FFF for this one. As media, we love it. To be able to ask one of the biggest names in the industry whatever you like - and for him to be so open - it's what you'd like every presser to be. But can you imagine the FA allowing reporters to ask Dominic Calvert-Lewis about the latest in the Catalan press regarding Barcelona's plans of contacting Everton for him? Of course not. And what's worse, we had FFF branded - and monetised - clips of Pogba discussing Real distributed to all their video partners to play continuously across the 'net. The FFF not only made problems for United, they made money off it to boot!
Pogba has hardly pulled up any trees since his return from those long-term ankle complaints. And claims of a new deal and pay-rise simply couldn't be based on current form or performances. Indeed for this column, he's yet to put a recent 90 minutes together to warrant United going out of their way to keep hold of him.
But at last week's presser, Paul Pogba did nothing wrong. He actually offered United fans more hope of his commitment to them, than any type of plans of moving elsewhere. The backlash was undeserved.
For this one, Paul Pogba was well and truly stitched up.