RALF RANGNICK may be the last Old Trafford manager faced with the Paul Pogba problem.
Yet he may also become the first to solve it.
Paul Pogba is set to return from injury for what could be his final months as a Manchester United playerCredit: PA
Ralf Rangnick could be the man to finally get the best out of PogbaCredit: PA
If he can do so then he will have earned a long–term contract as manager of Manchester United.
For the German will surely have shown the ego within an enigma that he should stay at the Theatre of Dreams.
And United will have what they thought they had when Pogba first returned from Juventus as the club’s £89.3m record buy almost six years ago: a true world-class talent.
One who his country’s manager Didier Deschamps describes as “the complete midfielder”.
Pogba’s deal is running down and he will become a free agent if he does not sign the papers.
Rangnick has so far not been faced with the Pogba dilemma since becoming interim boss.
The 28-year-old damaged his groin on duty for Les Bleus in November and then suffered a thigh muscle injury.
But come Friday, February 4 the World Cup winner is expected to be fit and available for the FA Cup fourth-round meeting with Middlesbrough.
That clash kicks off a brutal sequence of six games in 19 days, culminating in the February 23 Champions League last 16 first leg trip to Athletico Madrid.
Rangnick will need all hands on deck and one of them will surely be Pogba.
It is the ideal opportunity for the pair to make music together but it may also be the last dance.
Real Madrid, as has been the case so much of Pogba’s time at United, has once again been mooted as his favoured destination should that new £500,000 deal remain unsigned by him.
Yet should the world’s most famous club allow such a talent to leave for nothing not once but twice would be a PR disaster.
Not to mention a global drop in shirt sales.
For Pogba remains box office even if so many performances for his club have been anything but.
The question over him has always been where best to utilise the talents that, in Deschamps’ eyes at least, are unquestionable.
It could be argued that he was signed by the wrong manager in Jose Mourinho.
The Special One never got the best out of him and there were even suggestions that he didn’t want to sign him in the first place.
That Pogba, in fact, was only brought in as a corporate clothes horse.
Certainly there were times that he played like a donkey under him but often Mourinho’s career-long philosophy of caution and containment also hobbled him.
By the time he was sacked the Portuguese had called described him as being like a “virus” in the dressing room.
Perhaps understandably, even allowing for so many below-average displays, the midfielder got the hump and never truly got over the insult.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer tried everything to integrate him as he recreated a culture within a dressing room that had turned truly toxic.
Yet the Norwegian never quite managed to find the right place for him and the arrival of Bruno Fernandes meant the playmaker role for Pogba had gone.
He was deployed much deeper and his natural ball-playing tendencies and desire to be creative often made him an accident waiting to happen.
Had he N’Golo Kante next to him, as happens when they play for France, then the damage would have been limited.
But Fred, at a cost of £47m incidentally, could never and will never be completely trustworthy as a protector of the back four, especially one so prone to blunders as United’s has been for so long.
Meanwhile Scott McTominay would also be asked to play alongside him but it is only now that he is gaining the experience to take such responsibility.
Yet if Rangnick’s CV says anything about him, it is that he is technically and tactically one of the best coaches in the world and United are slowly starting to benefit.
If there is anybody who can solve the Pogba puzzle then it should be him for he has no axe to grind – as Mourinho had with him – while his career is not dependent on near-instant success, as Solskjaer’s was.
Rangnick may well want to listen to Deschamps’ description of how he sees Pogba.
He explained last year: “His role is quite liberal, he’s not limited in the offensive approach.
“If there’s a need, he can also go back to win the ball behind, but on the pitch sometimes he can play a little bit higher or lower.
“His position can also develop between the left and right side, it just depends on the positioning of the other players.”
The shorthand for that is Deschamps accepts that to free up Pogba he has to put up with him losing the ball on occasion.
And he has won the World Cup doing so, the Nations Cup and France were runners-up in the 2016 Euros.
Pogba needs to look to himself, of course, and stop with the flirting with Real or PSG if he does sign on again.
Getting his hands a bit dirtier on occasion wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
But he always looks like he is enjoying himself wearing the blue shirt of his country.
And he started off this season in a red one by registering four assists in the 5-
1 decimation of Leeds United having loads of fun.
So, one last dance then Auf Wiedersehen? Or a German waltz into a bright new future?
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