On Sunday, after yet another masterclass performance from Bruno Fernandes catapulted Manchester United firmly back into the top four race, the frustration of ‘what if’ was felt among the fans.
What if. What if United had signed Fernandes back in the summer?
Imagine if Fernandes had been there from the start of the season #mufc
— Soccerlens (@soccerlens) February 23, 2020
With temporary problems sorted for now, United must turn their attention towards a bigger issue, one that is sticking out like a sore thumb – what to do with Paul Pogba?
There’s no doubt that the 26-year-old is a world-class player. He has proved his quality at Juventus. He has proved his quality for France. The World-cup winner is a maverick, and there’s a general perception that United will be a strong force next season with him firing all cylinders.
I like Pogba. I want him to do well here. I think he could. This season was set up nicely for him to shine. Look how many the forwards have scored without him, imagine how many they’d have with him. But if he’s leaving anyway, then we should start getting ready for next season.
— Scott Patterson (@R_o_M) February 23, 2020
And therein lies the biggest talking point. There isn’t enough evidence to suggest that Pogba would be a roaring success next season. The talent is there, but the output is questionable. Since his big-money return to United from Juventus, the Frenchman has only excelled in flashes, and has lacked consistency.
On top of that, he is proving to be a baggage for the club with his agent Mino Raiola pulling the strings from behind for a potential exit. The antics from Raiola to take Pogba away from the club has become somewhat of a Soap Opera, and it is damaging the club’s reputation. One way or the other, United will have to put an end to this, irrespective of how Pogba ends the season.
Raiola has openly admitted that they will hold talks with United over Pogba’s future after the Euros, and it gives a clear indication that the Frenchman’s head and heart aren’t in the right place.
United must be ready. And they should line up options. And with that in mind, the Red Devils should make an attempt to sign Tottenham’s Dele Alli in the summer.
Why Alli? Does it make sense at all?
The 23-year-old’s situation is a curious one. When Spurs signed a hitherto unknown kid from Milton Keynes back in 2015, eyebrows were raised. And yet, the signing has turned out to be a masterstroke from Mauricio Pochettino.
He scored 44 goals in all competitions in his first three seasons, and has bagged the PFA Young Player of the year twice. He went to the World Cup, scored goals, and was heading towards something special if not greatness.
The last two seasons have been really disappointing for him, and it looks like he needs help. Roy Keane criticised him heavily for his attitude. He looked lost. For a brief period, it looked like Jose Mourinho got the best out of him, and yet there are shades of grey on the dreary palette of Dele’s road to rediscovery.
“Are you Dele or Dele’s brother?” Mourinho asked during their first conversation. “OK. Play like Dele. The real Dele.” The same Mourinho said about Alli’s substitution against RB Leipzig: “I think he was angry with his performance, not with me. I think he understands why I took him off. And our performance improved.”
This public flannelling from Mourinho will have done little to boost Alli’s confidence.
Alli is not Pogba’s like-for-like replacement. They are both different types of players. But, both are capable of conjuring up moments of inspiration. Alli’s exasperation grows as he gets more isolated in Mourinho’s system. Like Pogba, he wants to get involved.
The Portuguese sees Alli primarily as a No 10 playing off the striker, but he is a type of player who likes to be in the thick of all action. Systems can be changed to accommodate the right personnel, and Manchester United should consider Alli as an option if Pogba leaves.
Alli is on £100k per-week wages at Spurs. In any case, United shouldn’t have any problem in meeting his or Tottenham’s financial demands.
The England international is flamboyant, a poet with a disruptive burst of art, and can be enigmatic at times. At the same time, he is also a superb player and a match-winner. Most importantly, he doesn’t have a p*** taking agent.