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Pogba's ready? Why Real Madrid decision could be driving Man Utd selection

COMMENT: So who's selecting the team at Manchester United these days? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - or Zinedine Zidane...?

Call us cynical, but that's some coincidence. After months out with that ankle strain. Sometimes threateni..., erm, promising to return - but never quite making it. Paul Pogba is in United's travelling party today for the trip to Vicarage Road and Watford.

Twenty-fours earlier, his agent, the not so talkative Mino Raiola, gave the Telegraph a huge exclusive - an interview worthy of a double page spread. The Italian detailing how Pogba is misunderstood, that his relationship with Solskjaer is absolutely rock solid and his commitment to the club unwavering. And all this just ten days away from the opening of the winter market.

A winter market where Real Madrid have let it be known to their friends in the local press that a move for Pogba won't be considered. Not while Fede Valverde continues to play as he is. As this column has stated before, there's only one man at Real who can see a benefit in adding Pogba to their locker room - and that's Zinedine Zidane. For his part, president Florentino Perez would be happier looking elsewhere and privately he's chuffed that Valverde's emergence gives him another reason to duck Zizou's demands.

So for January, at the least, Pogba has to wait. Just as he did last summer - with Raiola confirming everything we were told via second-hand sources. Both he and Pogba tried everything and anything to engineer themselves a move to Madrid.

"There was an interest from Real Madrid but they [United] didn't let him go," declared Raiola, before conceding that there was disappointment the deal didn't come off, "and I'm sorry because I think that Paul being French then [Zinedine] Zidane is an important factor in French football history."

But with that admission came the latest approach of Team Pogba. Raiola again, "Paul wants to be successful and happy and wants to win prizes and he would love to do that with Manchester United."

So he wanted to leave, but now he's happy to stay? How does that work? Indeed, does it work? What would Pogba and Raiola's attitude be if Florentino was declare tomorrow that Real wanted the Frenchman signed and sealed on January 1? Do you really think the pair would turn the president down?

For this column, Raiola's no villain. And he doesn't deserve the bad press he often cops. But forgive our skepticism - the way this is all falling into place is just a little too convenient.

Is this about Pogba being fit to play? About his commitment to Solskjaer and United? Or has word come from Real that he won't be getting his January move? And the best way to convince Florentino is that he gets his head down for six months and plays some decent football. Not withstanding the midfielder's other (or is that top?) priority - France and next summer's Euros...

But what about on the pitch? What about the players who hope to be with United three, four, five years down the line? Does Solskjaer break up a successful midfield to accommodate Pogba?

For Raiola, the answer is obvious: "Is there a better midfielder [than Pogba] in the world? No!

"But if you create your identity then maybe you discover that Paul is ideal. If you, say, want to play with two holding midfielders then where does Paul play? In several positions."

But in Pogba's absence, Solskjaer has found a way for United to win. Indeed, the manager's players have done so. Scott McTominay, Fred, even Andreas Pereira. This trio have never played better in a United shirt. It's a United midfield that isn't just beating teams without Pogba, but doing so in some style. They're complementing eachother. Playing for eachother. A work ethic Solskjaer has been drumming into this squad since he arrived. The three of 'em working as hard off the ball for eachother as they do when in possession. Is the manager really going to break that momentum to accommodate his big name No6?

The reality is this team has worked it's way back into top four contention without Pogba. They've done the heavy lifting, all the while their senior teammate has been bouncing around the globe doing his rehab.

Fred doesn't deserve to make way. Nor McTominay or even the spiky Pereira. It'd be the wrong message to send to this locker room. Zidane may've decreed it's time for Pogba to play again, but that shouldn't mean Solskjaer simply bows.

His players deserve better for the way they've performed in their teammate's absence.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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