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Pogba, Raiola & Ole: Why Man Utd's manager will welcome Juventus 'strategy meeting'

COMMENT: Fully fit. Back in training. This week Manchester United fans were reminded of what they'd be missing while Paul Pogba was globetrotti... ahem, rehabbing from his ankle injury. And yes, it had little to do with matters on the pitch...

Instead, yet again, just as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, his manager, had spoken positively about getting Pogba back in the team. Just as the Norwegian had been encouraging about pairing the Frenchman with star man Bruno Fernandes. Just as another olive branch was offered... it was breaking in Italy that Mino Raiola was again in talks with Juventus about putting together a strategy to ferry him back to Turin.

And for all the warmth Solskjaer has publicly shown Pogba in these recent weeks. All the encouragement. This is really what United have missed while Pogba has chosen to do his injury recovery everywhere and anywhere but Carrington.

On the pitch, they didn't miss him before Christmas. Nor did they miss him when working through that midseason slump. And they certainly haven't missed him since January and that eleven match unbeaten run.

But with him out of sight, out of mind, what United have missed... or better yet, avoided... has been the sniping. The digs. Laid up in traction, Raiola had nothing to sell. But now that his client is up and running again - and being coaxed along by a servile media - Pogba's super agent is back at work, trying to find a way out for his client.

And it is a strategy. The Turin press uncovering Raiola's talks with Fabio Paratici, Juve's sporting director, offering the one purpose - to send a clear message to Real Madrid and their coach Zinedine Zidane: no matter the public noise out of Old Trafford, or the feedback from your intermediaries - Pogba is now in play.

So is this frustrating for Solskjaer? Not really. There is an annoyance that this - again - is being played out in the press. But for all the positive words about Pogba and what he could bring to the team, privately the manager's favoured option has long been to sell.

You won't hear him say this through the press. Nor even will Pogba get this from the man himself. He only need ask Romelu Lukaku, Marcos Rojo or Marouane Fellaini. All manipulated out of the club without ever having the feeling they were unwanted by the manager.

It'll only be later when we'll get those stories - just as we've had about Lukaku and Micky Phelan butting heads. Or a disappointment with the now Inter Milan striker's weight. We'll get the same with Pogba - if he can be sold.

For some, including this column, there's been a frustration with how Solskjaer has managed Pogba and surrogate Raiola: 'He should've been more forceful with his No6'. 'Harsher with his response to Raiola's snipes'. But we were put in our place a week ago when raising the situation with one long-time Carrington source.

As it was explained - and quite perceptively - Pogba has represented "completely new ground for Manchester United". And this includes the Sir Alex Ferguson era. United have had players of Pogba's media pull - but never one who openly courted and encouraged it. David Beckham, of course, comes to mind - but Ferguson was quick to first bench, then sell, the midfielder once his profile was becoming a distraction.

Ferguson did flirt with the Pogba-types during his time in charge. Paul Gascoigne could've created problems for that first great team Sir Alex built. And being beaten by Barcelona to Ronaldinho's signing may also have been a blessing in disguise for the Scot.

Indeed, Ferguson and his board never had to deal with anything like what Pogba has imposed on the club these past four years. It's new ground for all concerned and to be fair, as our source stated, there's little to be gained going to war with the team's highest profile player as Solskjaer builds a new, youthful team around receptive, young players. Again, the manager would be just adding to the same distraction that he ultimately wants rid of.

"I'd rather have a hole in the squad than an a**hole," Solskjaer quipped this week to the fanzine, United We Stand. "In March 2019, players were physically tired, mentally tired and we had injuries. The players started with negative thinking, whereas now it's positive thinking."

Fernandes is now a welcome talisman. Jack Grealish is itching for Aston Villa to close a deal for him to move north. And the No7 shirt is waiting for Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund's young English winger. United haven't been standing still during Pogba's absence. And they haven't been waiting around for him to decide to get better.

The club's moved on. And news out of Turin last week is proof in this relationship, they're the only party who has.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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