With just a year left to run on his Manchester United contract, Paul Pogba’s future is understandably the subject of speculation on the eve of the new Premier League season.
To the extent that reports in France have even suggested the midfielder’s agent, Mino Raiola, had offered his client to fierce-rivals Liverpool.
Regardless of the validity of such claims, the clock does seem to be ticking on the Frenchman’s Old Trafford career and, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having already spent big on Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane this summer, an exit for Pogba would help finance those moves.
In recent weeks Paris Saint-Germain have been the main side credited with interest in the 28-year-old, in a swoop that would be far more realistic than any switch to Anfield, with some reports suggesting they have opened talks regarding a possible move.
With the Ligue 1 giants still desperate to win the Champions League, and also heading into the new season in the unfamiliar position of not being reigning champions, it is understandable why they mean business in the transfer market.
Having already tied Neymar down to a new contract, they are trying to get Kylian Mbappe to do the same while Mauricio Pochettino has strengthened his squad this summer with the arrivals of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi and ex-Liverpool midfielder Gini Wijnaldum.
Already boasting the services of the likes of Marco Veratti, Leandro Paredes, Angel Di Maria, Rafinha, Danilo Pereira, Ander Herrera, Pablo Sarabia, Julian Draxler and Idrissa Gueye alongside the former Red, PSG can already claim to have one of the strongest midfields in Europe.
Yet should they now seek to bring in Pogba through the arrival door after Wijnaldum as well, it would be an even clearer signal of intent heading into the new season.
Whether the Frenchman would be a big-money transfer now or prove to be, like the Dutchman, a Bosman signing at the end of his contract remains to be seen.
But the contrasting fortunes of the rivals turned would-be team-mates in Manchester and Liverpool respectively is curious when reflecting upon their stints in the Premier League.
Wijnaldum and Pogba moved to Anfield and Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, Jurgen Klopp bringing in the Dutchman from relegated Newcastle United in a £25m deal while the Frenchman returned to the Red Devils in a world record £89m move from Juventus, just four years on from leaving the club on a free transfer.
Understandably it was Pogba’s return that gained most fanfare as United decreed ‘POGBACK’, while some Reds’ reaction to the signing of Wijnaldum was rather nondescript in comparison.
And to further entwine the duo, it was his own midfielder Klopp name-dropped when he was asked whether he would like to manage the Frenchman one day back in 2018.
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“What can I say? Paul Pogba is a world-class player. That’s all I can say, and he’s a Man United player so I think we should prepare for him as well,” the German said.
“I don’t know how much you ask Jose Mourinho about players from us? Does somebody ask him about Gini Wijnaldum? I think 100 per cent not!”
Yet while Liverpool saw their midfielder move on for nothing and United will still hold out hope of claiming a hefty fee should their own man move on, there is a clear winner when it comes to which transfer worked out best for either club.
In Wijnaldum, the Reds boasted a genuine Liverpool legend and one who played a vital, virtual ever-present role, right across his five years at Anfield as Klopp’s men rose to heights new even for a club of such stature.
A Premier League, Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup winner during his time on Merseyside, the Dutchman exceeded all expectations even if supporters never got to witness the player they had anticipated their club had signed.
Predominantly an attacking midfielder prior to his move to Anfield, with his most memorable moment for Newcastle being a four-goal haul against Norwich City, Klopp had other ideas for his new arrival.
Utilised mainly as a number eight, Wijnaldum was also reinvented as a number six as he flourished in a new deeper role, but also ensuring he was somewhat taken for granted with such a decision ultimately contributing to his parting words about feeling unloved and a scapegoat when departing for PSG.
Also showing his versatility as both an emergency centre-back and striker, Reds fans will still wonder what could have been had he been able to showcase his attacking abilities more regularly under Klopp, having continued to thrive in a number 10 role for the Netherlands throughout his time at Anfield.
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Yet, he still often proved himself to be a big-game player with Wijnaldum’s historic brace in Liverpool’s 4-0 victory over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-finals guaranteed his place in the club’s annals forever.
Boasting 22 goals and 15 assists from 237 appearances for Liverpool, there were also crucial strikes against rivals Man City, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton as well as goals against Middlesbrough, Roma and Chelsea to help the Reds qualify for the Champions League, reach a Champions League final and celebrate lifting the Premier League trophy in style.
In contrast, Pogba remains something of a luxury player for United. One that demonstrates occasional moments of brilliance, his record of 38 goals and 45 assists from 199 appearances is superior to Wijnaldum’s own return at Liverpool, but he has rarely been the match-winning midfielder the Red Devils expected.
Despite boasting just Europa League and League Cup winners’ medals from back in 2017, scoring in the final of the former, Pogba seemingly saves his best for France, with even his staunchest of supporters facing a struggle to convince others he has consistently delivered on his £89m transfer fee at Old Trafford.
His most impressive season for United came in 2018/19, scoring 13 goals from 35 Premier League appearances to win a place in the PFA Team of the Year off the back of winning the World Cup.
Yet that season United only finished sixth in the table, suffering quarter-final exits in the Champions League and FA Cup and a third-round League Cup loss as their season ended in disappointment.
And the fact that they have won nothing since 2017, lost numerous semi-finals and suffered premature Champions League exits when not failing to qualify at all has often been placed partly at Pogba’s door for not being able to consistently deliver and make the difference for the Red Devils.
The 2018/19 season remains the Frenchman’s only campaign where he has returned more than 30 Premier League appearances for the Red Devils, with him being limited to just 16 and 26 outings in the past two campaigns. In contrast, Wijnaldum’s lowest return stood at 33 league appearances.
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There is no doubting the talents of either player, and should they end up partnering each other in the PSG midfield, they’ll certainly forge a formidable prospect.
Admittedly neither the Dutchman or the Frenchman can confidently claim to have lived up to initial expectations following their moves to Anfield and Old Trafford in the summer of 2016.
Yet Liverpool will have no regrets regarding their now former £25m man, having got the very most for their money across Wijnaldum’s five years on Merseyside.
And that’s something United will never be able to claim when it comes to Pogba regardless of when his Red Devils career actually comes to an end.
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