It is only the middle of June, the Premier League fixtures have just been announced, but already it appears Paul Pogba’s possible move to Real Madrid could well be the transfer story of the summer.
Sportsmail reported on Tuesday that Manchester United are prepared to offer Pogba a new deal worth £500,000 a week to keep him at the club.
But his comments at the weekend about wanting a ‘new challenge’ would have caught the attention of those at Real Madrid who want him at Santiago Bernabeu.
Here, Sportsmail assesses the main players behind this summer’s most exciting transfer story.
Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United is uncertain with Real Madrid wanting to sign him
Where do you begin? A player who is highly regarded but with a personality that is very divisive. His comments at the weekend gave you an insight into how prepared he is to push through something he feels has to happen.
Pogba, in Asia with sponsors adidas, said: ‘After everything that happened this season, with my season being my best season as well… I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else.
‘I am thinking of this: to have a new challenge somewhere else.’
Pogba signalled his intention to leave the club in search of ‘something new’ at the weekend
Those comments, unsurprisingly, didn’t go down well back at Old Trafford. ‘It is safe to say that they [United] are distinctly unimpressed with it, but as far as they’re concerned Pogba will be at the club next season,’ a source told Sportsmail.
With two years remaining on a £290,000-a-week deal at United, you would assume that the power lies with United. But by being prepared to offer him £210,000 more, they are admitting defeat, trying to protect an asset.
Pogba, meanwhile, can choose to play this as he feels. Should he badly want a move to Real Madrid then it would be a shock to see him in United’s opening Premier League fixture against Chelsea on August 11. Ultimately, it is up to him.
Once described by Sir Alex Ferguson as a ‘t**t’, Raiola has become one of the most influential people in football. Pogba is arguably his most valuable asset and Raiola knows exactly the sort of revenue streams the 26-year-old can open up for clubs.
His relationship with Pogba is also very close. In 2016, Raiola was asked about his closeness with Pogba. ‘I don’t see him as a client at all,’ Raiola said. ‘In fact, I dare to say, family.’
Pogba trusts Raiola and values his opinion. He also values his ability to get a deal done. Indeed, Raiola is now free once again to broker transfers in Italy and beyond after FIFA lifted a worldwide suspension last week.
Mino Raiola is the man behind Paul Pogba and his influence will be key this summer
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) hit Raiola with a three-month suspension from practising as an agent back in April and that was followed up with an international ban from FIFA.
It has given the green light for Raiola to press on with transfers. No doubt Pogba would have been advised by Raiola before he made his comments about a ‘new challenge’ at the weekend. Raiola doesn’t tend to wait long when there is a chance of getting a deal over the line though his fee [and Pogba’s] will have to be right.
A man never shy of criticism but Woodward has been strong in the past when it has come to keeping a player at the club. Case in point was Pogba last summer when he blocked his desired move to Barcelona. He remains adamant that any player who is central to United’s commercial interests as well as to the success on the pitch will not be sold.
But there is a weakness to Woodward’s approach. Not least the idea that chucking more money at Pogba will get him to stay. Should he sign that new deal, United will have a £500,000-a-week problem as opposed to a £290,000-a-week one. He knows Solskjaer can do without having an unsettled player in his dressing room.
United chief Ed Woodward is adamant that Pogba’s commercial potential be kept at the club
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
The man tasked with bringing success back to Old Trafford. There can no doubt that Solskjaer wants Pogba to stay at the club. He knows the qualities that Pogba possesses and understands the need to build a team around the midfielder. That said, Pogba’s comments at the weekend are said to have concerned Solskjaer.
As a former player, he knows the dangers of speaking out of turn and the consequences that would have had under Ferguson. Undoubtedly he wants a swift conclusion either way. After all, he has a new season to prepare for and he knows the potentially difficult situation he could find himself in if United have a poor start to the campaign.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows Pogba’s value to Manchester United on the football pitch
The man at United that very little is known. He is Woodward’s right-hand man and has been responsible for negotiating deals alongside Woodward since 2016. Judge is kept out of the spotlight. For instance, look for Judge on the internet and just one – unconfirmed – photograph exists of a tall, balding man walking behind Woodward in club suit and tie.
There is no picture on his LinkedIn page. It must be said that he isn’t a director of football. Like Woodward, he specialises in commercial aspects of business. Again, he will understand the importance of keeping Pogba from a commercial sense.
Matt Judge (behind Woodward) is in charge of negotiating commercial deals for United
The one with perhaps the loudest voice in all of this even if you won’t hear him directly. Sportsmail’s Pete Jenson, who is based in Spain, wrote earlier this week that Zidane is insistent that he wants Pogba on Real Madrid’s pre-season tour in just three weeks.
Real Madrid travel to Canada on July 8 and Zidane wants the French midfielder linking up with other new signings Rodrygo Goes, Eder Militao, Luca Jovic, Eden Hazard and Ferland Mendy. That could make for a tense first week of July with Pogba likely to be reporting back for duty at United on July 1.
Zidane wants Pogba to have that extra week of holidays instead of joining up with United. Pogba is the missing piece in Zidane’s expensively assembled puzzle.
The Real Madrid manager has already spent £344million in the summer transfer window
Real Madrid have spent £344million so far this summer. To buy Pogba would mean parting with another £130m. As much as Perez, the Real Madrid president, is prepared to burn his way through more money, there is also a commitment to free up funds by selling players. In his eyes, it is crucial he is able to facilitate a move for Pogba.
Zidane has walked out on Real before and he would be prepared to do it again should he not get what he wants. He wants to manage the best and Pogba, who Zidane greatly admires, would tick that box.
Real president Florentino Perez has been told by Zidane that Pogba is his No 1 target