Paul Pogba limps away from France training with injury
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have survived the dreaded international break and remained in charge as Manchester United boss. But there is a feeling he is on borrowed time after a mixed start to the season — and it appears Paul Pogba could hold the key to his future.
The Red Devils splashed out on three marquee signings with Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane arriving for a combined £120million over the summer.
The trio were supposedly the players whom would give Man United the tools to challenge the likes of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea for the Premier League title this season.
Instead, the Red Devils have fallen short in their opening 13 matches and are off the pace down in sixth place in the league table.
But it is individual results, including a shock defeat to Young Boys in the Champions League and a humiliating 5-0 loss at the hands of Liverpool — their worst defeat to the Reds since 1925.
Solskjaer has been in charge since December 2018 after replacing Jose Mourinho initially on an interim basis before he was handed the permanent job in March 2019.
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The Norwegian’s managerial experience has constantly been called into question having only taken charge of Cardiff City in 2012 and Molde in Norway.
He has faced calls to be relieved of his duties from United legends such as Paul Scholes and Roy Keane, while other past players have thrown their support behind Solskjaer.
The United board continue to back the 48-year-old in public but it is believed preparations are being made if the club’s progress continues to nosedive.
Antonio Conte had been linked with replacing Solskjaer before the Italian tactician took the vacant job at Tottenham.
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But there are still a number of star-studded names linked with the Old Trafford post, with Zinedine Zidane available since leaving Real Madrid in June.
Ajax’s highly-rated coach Erik ten Hag has been mentioned as another candidate on the United board’s shortlist, while Brendan Rodgers
But Zidane’s experience working with star names such as Ronaldo and Varane at Real could hold the key, especially with the uncertainty over Pogba.
The 28-year-old is yet to put pen to paper on a new contract with the Red Devils and he will be free to speak to foreign clubs about a pre-contract agreement from January 1.
Time is running out for United to convince their record signing to renew his deal with the club and prolong his five-year stay beyond the summer of 2022.
While there is no obvious destination for the World Cup winner at present, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and Real Madrid have all been mooted as potential suitors in the past.
Unlike his predecessor Mourinho, who Pogba fell out with shortly before the Portuguese’s departure, Solskjaer has been a passionate advocate for Pogba staying at Old Trafford.
He has benefitted from putting his faith in the midfielder, who registered seven assists in his first four matches of the season.
Since then, Pogba has faded and was sent off just 15 minutes after coming off the bench against Liverpool.
There have been suggestions that his contract saga has been affecting the France international’s form on the pitch and with no solution expected, United may be forced to take drastic measures to keep him at the club.
Doubts remain as to whether Solskjaer can take the club any further and, in Pogba’s case, help the talented midfielder unlock his full potential during the peak years of his career.
Such questions are unlikely to be asked about Zidane, the Frenchman who guided Real Madrid to three consecutive Champions League titles — a feat no other coach has managed.
It is no secret that Zidane made repeated attempts to sign Pogba while he was in charge at the Santiago Bernabeu, only for Man United to turn down offers of around £150m for their prized asset.
The opportunity to link up with one of the greatest midfielders of his generation could appeal greatly to Pogba and if it means keeping an irreplaceable player at the club rather than losing him for free, it could be an option worth exploring.
One of the stumbling blocks the Red Devils face is convincing Pogba that he is better off renewing his deal with a club without silverware since 2017 than picking up a mega contract offer from one of Europe’s elite.
And there is some concern that with Real and Juve preparing their own lucrative salary packages, according to Marca, he could walk for free — just as he did in 2012 as a 19-year-old.
Even if United chiefs are reportedly losing hope of keeping Pogba, there has been no concrete statement from the player or his representative to suggest he is leaving.
With that in mind, there may still be time to convince him to stay – and hiring Zidane as Solskjaer’s replacement could be enough to tempt him into signing on the dotted line.
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