COMMENT: Congratulations must go to Mino Raiola. The agent achieved the impossible last week. He actually brought out the nasty side in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer...
For the first time since taking charge of Manchester United, Solskjaer displayed a side of his character not seen in public.
Yeah, the initial headlines generated from Friday's presser centred around the manager's response to Robin van Persie. There was no smile or shrug from Solskjaer this time, the Norwegian reacting to the Dutchman's claims of being too laid back in the aftermath of defeat at Arsenal with 'Robin took my shirt number 20, and that's probably the only thing he's going to take away from me'. In other words RVP, you know where you can stick your opinion.
But it's Raiola who really found a way to get under Solskjaer's skin. A couple of well placed quotes in the English press about how client Paul Pogba "loves Ole" were completely obliterated in a scathing interview with La Repubblica on New Year's day. This was real line in the sand stuff. Not just for Raiola, but also Pogba. Indeed, you could even throw the Haaland clan in there as well.
"...now Pogba's problem is Manchester: it's a club out of reality, without a sports project," scoffed Raiola. "Today I wouldn't take anyone there anymore, they would also ruin (Diego) Maradona, Pele and (Paolo) Maldini.
"Paul needs a team and a club, one like the first Juve."
Unless said otherwise, an agent is effectively a player's spokesman. His proxy. And the fact Pogba has said nothing to counter this blast speaks volumes. Raiola attacked both Pogba's club and his manager. And at the time of writing, he's done so with his client's approval. Why should anyone think otherwise, particularly when Pogba has left those words twisting in the wind?
So of course Solskjaer is going to be angry. Pogba's spokesman mocked his coaching ability. Declared a move to United was a dead end. And all done with zero attempt from the player to publicly distance himself from such claims.
“I can speak to Paul about it," said Solskjaer. "I don't think I should talk to - or about - agents that talk about us.
"But Paul is our player and agents are hired by players - not the opposite way around. It is not agents' players, it is our players."
So they'll have words - the manager and his No6. But significantly, unlike with the Van Persie response, there was still no spite in Solskjaer's reaction. Not for Raiola, nor for Pogba. The Norwegian's comments nothing like the barbs flung at RVP just minutes earlier.
Which is why this is pure betrayal. By Pogba. Even by Raiola. Solskjaer has done everything he can to protect his player during their time together. Indeed, he's never spoken disparagingly of his agent. Yet there was Raiola, pulling apart Solskjaer's work as a coach. And also mocking the new project he and Mike Phelan - with the board's approval - have put in place.
For this column, we have to put our hands up and say: we were wrong. In the past, we've defended Raiola. Insisted he was simply finding the best way to work a system to the benefit of his clients. But this interview with La Repubblica was personal. Malicious. There was no reason for it, but Raiola allowed himself to indulge.
Thing is, these claims were also deluded. One club men like Paolo Maldini and Pele (okay, okay he had that short spell with New York Cosmos) would have no use for a representative like Raiola. As players they lived on another plane.
Raiola lives and breathes off mercenaries. There's no money to be made in contract renewals. It's about shifting players in and out of clubs. For greats like Maldini, Pele and Maradona, it's insulting for Raiola to even breathe their names in his verbal assault on Solskjaer's coaching. Put it this way, no-one's tearing down any statues of these three for what they've given the game...
But like attracts like and there was the hint of a message to the Haaland family from Solskjaer when stating, "It is not agents' players, it is our players".
Inside United, it's been relayed to the Norwegian press that it was their decision to leave Erling Haaland to Borussia Dortmund. United weren't going to play their game. They could afford to, sure. But the line had to be drawn somewhere. United weren't going to pay a €15m commission to Raiola. And they also weren't going to hand over a crazy percentage of a future fee to Haaland Snr. Such demands were alleged via United sources in the Norwegian press.
Borussia Dortmund, however, were. And while there's a lot of backslapping and self-congratulations coming from the Germans, this had little to do with 'expert' scouting and 'special' Whatsapp groups. Dortmund were simply willing to abase themselves and pay what United weren't. They took advantage of Haaland's €22m buyout clause. They argued the case, at today's market rates, that Raiola's commission still left them ahead. And if United's claims are to be believed, they caved into the Haaland family demands of being part of any sell-on fee.
For Solskjaer, it's a disappointment. A big disappointment. He did everything the right way. Even Raiola conceded - in contrast to those Dortmund claims - it was United who spoke more with the Haaland camp than anyother club. Solskjaer even going out of his way to fly to Salzburg to meet with Erling in the same week the player had visited BVB officials in Dortmund. But it still wasn't enough, not when your competitor refuses to play to the same rules.
No matter how you slice it, Solskjaer's done things by the book. With Haaland - and with Pogba. Yet, it's still not been enough and his frustration found it's way to the surface on Friday.
Raiola achieved the impossible last week, though it's nothing to be boastful of.