Manchester United have been quoted £60m if they want to persevere with plans to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford two years after his acrimonious departure on a free transfer.
The Observer can reveal that United are not only targeting Kevin Strootman from Roma but have made repeated attempts over the past year to explore whether Juventus would sell them the midfielder at a huge profit. Mino Raiola, the player’s agent, said this week that Pogba was happy in Turin but United’s information is that the France international is open to the idea.
Pogba featured prominently in David Moyes’s plans for a overhaul of the United midfield, with the former manager hoping to bring in at least two high-calibre players. Toni Kroos of Bayern Munich and Cesc Fábregas of Barcelona were the other players on his wish-list and there had been extensive work behind the scenes over a six-month period to explore exactly what it would take to make the moves happen.
A deal was effectively in place for Kroos, and United had been in a reasonably strong position to bring Fábregas back to the Premier League. However, the position on those two has drastically changed since Louis van Gaal took the job, with Strootman the top of his own list of targets despite the Dutch midfielder currently recovering from a broken leg. United now say neither Kroos nor Fábregas are no longer in their thinking any longer.
What is not entirely clear is whether Van Gaal believes United should persist with their interest in Pogba. United also have reservations about the player’s attitude and, in particular, what it says about him that he wanted to leave Old Trafford at the age of 19 and that he is now willing to sever his ties with Juventus only two seasons later. United wonder whether this would make him a risk buy. He has played for two of the world’s leading clubs and never appeared fully satisfied.
Raiola, who also represents Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, has a reputation as one of the more difficult agents in the business and is viewed largely with suspicion at Old Trafford. It has not helped either that Pogba has repeatedly criticised his former club while United’s chief executive, Ed Woodward, has been sounding out a possible move.
With all those issues, United believe the fee that was quoted to them is both realistic for a player of his talent and age, yet also a gamble. United did think it was worth persevering and have been in regular contact with Juventus.
Pogba had become disillusioned at United because of how long it was taking him to break into the team and his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson suffered as a result.
Ferguson’s suspicion was that Pogba had agreed a deal with Juventus long before his contract expired, accusing him of “not showing us any respect at all”. However, there is also an acceptance high up at Old Trafford that the former chief executive, David Gill, made a mistake by not recognising Pogba’s status as one of the outstanding young players in Europe and offering him a more rewarding contract.
In their discussions with Juventus, United also asked about the Chile midfielder Arturo Vidal. This was in the Moyes era and United were not encouraged to follow up their interest in a player Van Gaal once tried to sign from Bayer Leverkusen.