Manchester United need two transfer plans to deal with Paul Pogba uncertainty
Paul Pogba is out of contract at Old Trafford next year and he could yet leave Man Utd on a free transfer in 2022.
Tonight Paul Pogba will be back in his happy place.
It might be stretching it to say Pogba is more at home in international football than the club game, but the Manchester United midfielder is a leader with France and his performances for his country are usually excellent.
In 2021 he's started to produce that level of consistency at Old Trafford as well and the last six months have arguably been Pogba's best at United, but once again there was no trophy to show for it.
That's certainly not the case with France. Pogba's speech to his Les Bleus teammates in the Luzhniki Stadium in July 2018 went viral all around the world and displayed his statesmanlike leadership, something he is often accused of not bringing to Manchester.
But Pogba has thrived for France because he has a settled role in a team of world-class talents. It's taken too long for United to furnish this side with players who can also bring the best out of Pogba. Recently we've had a glimpse of that beginning to happen, a more advanced role allowing him to thrive alongside Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani.
For the next month - starting in Munich tonight against Germany - Pogba will seek to make more history with France. At United, they will watch on and wonder what the future holds for the £89million signing, who is out of contract next June.
This is nothing new at Old Trafford, the only change is that the ticking of the clock is now getting louder and louder. It was two years ago when Pogba said he wanted a "new challenge" while Mino Raiola laid the groundwork for an exit. You'd have got long odds then that the World Cup winner would still be at United in the summer of 2021.
United held firm in 2019 and the pandemic has since made an exit almost impossible. Pogba would like a move to Real Madrid or a return to Juventus but the reality is neither of those sides can afford him now, at least not when a fee is involved. So a move this summer is highly unlikely, it's now a case of whether Pogba signs a new contract or departs for nothing in 2022.
If he takes the latter option United will face the ignominy of losing Pogba on a free transfer twice, but the possibility of a sale has been ended by circumstances out of their control in the last 18 months and the 28-year-old has been too good this season to consider selling on the cheap. If United are to challenge for the title next season then they're going to need Pogba.
For his part, the player hasn't made a major statement on his future since 2019, so we can only presume his desire remains to try and out pastures new. There were signs this season that United are edging closer to trophies under Solskjaer, but Pogba won't want to wait much longer for the final step to be taken. For a player of his talents he hasn't won enough in the club game.
It's the uncertainty that will be causing a few headaches at United, even if he will still be a part of the squad for next season. If he was to sign a new contract it would keep a world-class player at the club and immediately strengthen United's chances of success in the next few years. Playing in midfield or a more advanced role, Pogba has been one of United's best performers this calendar year.
Conversely, if he decides to leave next summer replacing him is going to be a considerable task. For starters United will need to work out if they're replacing a midfielder or an attacker, given the quality Pogba has shown in both positions this season. With a defensive midfielder already on the radar and Declan Rice the favourite to fulfil that position, United might need to pursue a more complete midfielder as well, unless Donny van de Beek can come of age next season.
Clubs always like to plan transfer windows well in advance, to have a good idea of the holes that need filling a squad and the potential targets, but the reality is United's summer of 2022 is going to be conditioned by Pogba and at the moment they just don't know how that is going to go.