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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must follow the Sir Alex Ferguson playbook and sell Paul Pogba

Sir Alex Ferguson’s view on player power was very clear: “Once you bid farewell to discipline you can say goodbye to success.” Ferguson enacted this sentiment on multiple occasions, by sanctioning the sales of some of Manchester United’s all-time greats. Whether it be David Beckham or Ruud van Nistelrooy, the Scot always made one thing clear: no player is bigger than the club.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has famously cited the vast influence of Ferguson on his own managerial methods on multiple occasions. However, actions speak louder than words. Paul Pogba’s announcement on Sunday of his desire to leave United will provide the ultimate test of Solskjaer’s ruthlessness and integrity

In terms of the Ferguson era, the closest parallel to the Pogba dilemma is the sale of David Beckham in 2003. Similarly to Pogba, Beckham was a stupendously talented player, with his crossing and vision arguably being the best in the world at the time. However, Beckham is arguably a prototype of Pogba in relation to conduct off the pitch.

The Frenchman’s commercial and fashion interests are viewed by many as simply unnecessary. The persona of Pogba also seems to ignite United’s critics, and in some cases leads to the player and the club being a source of mockery when the player or the team’s performances are substandard. This was illustrated in January 2017 in a home 1-1 draw against arch-rivals Liverpool.

Throughout the encounter, a ‘Pogmoji’ image circled the Old Trafford advertising boards. In the match itself, Pogba erratically conceded a penalty, while dragging wide a clear opportunity. In a game with such high stakes as the North West derby, many viewed the Pogba commercial circus as an embarrassment to the club, especially as United only scraped a draw.

This, of course, isn’t solely Pogba’s wrong-doing, as the United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is infamous for his passion for commercial endorsements. However, it’s inescapable to think that Ferguson would ever allow such a high scale commercial endorsement in United’s biggest game of the season. Ferguson simply grew tired of Beckham’s so-called ‘Spice Boy’ persona.

In a team filled with hard working professionals such as Solskjaer and Ryan Giggs, Beckham was dispensable, in spite of his unquestionable talent. Solskjaer witnessed Beckham’s sale firsthand, and ultimately profited from it personally, by earning a stint in Beckham’s position. If the Norwegian wants to emulate Ferguson’s level of discipline and respect, Paul Pogba will only provide a hindrance to his tenure.

If Paul Pogba does depart the club this summer, United can look to an unlikely source of inspiration: arch-rivals Liverpool. When Phillipe Coutinho departed for Barcelona, it was viewed by many as a catastrophic loss for Jurgen Klopp’s side. However, without the need to build the team around the Brazilian, Klopp was able to solidify his side by playing three central midfielders, making the team more equipped to compete for trophies.

In addition, Klopp spent the funds acquired through Coutinho’s sale on addressing key weaknesses in his side. The acquisitions of a centre half in Virgil van Dijk and a goalkeeper in Alisson illustrate this. These two additions played a large role in Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League triumph and ensured that Coutinho’s departure was worthwhile. If United were to follow suit, the funds could be used to address key weaknesses, while also investing in Pogba’s replacement. 

A cause for concern is whether the funds would be made available to spend, due to the infamous track record of the Glazers. In the scenario that the money is injected into the transfer kitty, it would allow Solskjaer to build a team based on a philosophy, as opposed to purely on illustrious names. The Norwegian would be able to acquire players that fit into his desired pressing-based system.

In the current United squad, players such as Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku seem unsuited to United’s new high energy formula. Offloading Pogba would generate up to £150 million, which could comfortably buy a holding midfielder and a number nine to take the burden off Marcus Rashford. The Pogba saga is the biggest test of Solskjaer’s managerial career.

The Frenchman’s departure could kickstart Solskjaer’s rebuild of the United team and help in constructing a side in the mould of his philosophy. Furthermore, it would send a clear message on his leadership, and a zero-tolerance message on player power. Jose Mourinho paid the ultimate price as a result of Pogba’s player power. Solskjaer must follow the Ferguson playbook, otherwise, his leadership credentials will be in tatters.

Written by Alexei Braithwaite

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