Paul Pogba’s impending exit from Manchester United has been a long time coming, but that does not mean it has been any easier to replace a player who was arguably their most talented individual performer.
The Frenchman leaves United as somewhat of an enigma after a six-year spell in which five campaigns were trophyless, two managers were sacked and his number of standout performances can be counted comfortably across two hands.
Yet even despite his disappointment, there were moments of pure brilliance, with Pogba capable of genius on the pitch that no other United player can match.
Erik ten Hag knew from the moment he was approached for the job that he would be planning for the future with Pogba at his disposal, and United’s interest in Frenkie de Jong is evidence that another progressive playmaker might be needed as a direct replacement for the departing midfield maestro.
However, there is still plenty of work to do. While the Manchester Evening News understands United are in talks with Barcelona over a deal, club sources insist they will not overpay for the Dutchman this summer.
Even if United do end up signing the 25-year-old, they won’t be able to solely rely on him to fill the void left by Pogba, with Ten Hag facing the extra struggle of Europa League football as part of his hectic debut season at the club.
United also need to look at internal solutions to their midfield reshuffle, and former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already named two players at the club capable of doing that.
The Norwegian was forced to make do without Pogba for much of the 2019/20 season after a reoccurring ankle injury left him sidelined for 265 days across three different setbacks. They managed to offset it with the addition of Bruno Fernandes in the January transfer window, but before that, Pogba had already missed 31 matches because of his ankle issues in that campaign.
In his place, Solskjaer gave Fred and Andreas Pereira the chance to prove their worth in midfield. Three years on, they might become a go-to solution again.
“Paul Pogba’s been brilliant and he is a creative midfielder that we need, but then it is up to the others to step up,” Solskjaer said back in October 2019. “The two Brazilians, Fred and Andreas, they are going to be important for us.
“Fred will probably take Paul’s position for a while now and that’s been brilliant for us. Andreas has grown in the last few games. His energy, running and chasing, makes him a different sort of number 10.
“He can play also in the central positions, so I am delighted with him. He’s a great professional, great attitude. He does his job to the best of his abilities.”
Fred played his best football in a United shirt when utilised in a more advanced role towards the end of the season, effectively taking Pogba’s place in the team as part of a midfield trio with Fernandes and a deeper-lying option.
While he might not be a player to start every match in the long-term, the Brazil international has certainly proven he is worthy of playing further up the pitch, and could certainly be a short-term solution if a deal for De Jong doesn’t materialise.
In regards to Pereira, he might himself be a wildcard option for a squad role next season, and although he isn’t good enough to start most weeks, he might be able to replace the likes of Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard or Nemanja Matic as a bench option.
The 26-year-old’s future is still up in the air, and although he is expected to get a chance under Ten Hag in pre-season, it is understood United are still open to offers should any come in for him.
United’s long-term plan must still be to replace Pogba with another world-class midfielder, whether that be De Jong, Jude Bellingham or Declan Rice.
But with their priority being a new defensive midfielder this summer, there is still a chance that they might not be able to directly replace him this time around.
If that’s the case, they might already have two short-term solutions at their disposal.