Paul Pogba's dismal departure six years after his £89m return epitomizes how far Man Utd have fallen in recent years
THEY CALL it the Theatre of Dreams yet Manchester United’s famous home has surely now become a place of pure fantasy.
Or at least that’s the conclusion many of the club’s fans came to following today’s gushing goodbye to Paul Pogba.
The Frenchman will, as has been long expected, leave on a free transfer at the end of this month.
Most of the Old Trafford faithful who reacted to the news didn’t blink an eye and there were no tears for souvenirs at the loss of the £89M record buy who returned in 2016.
He won’t be the last to head out with Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic and Jesse Lingard having already gone on free transfers.
New manager Erik Ten Hag is already in the middle of a clear-out meaning the likes of Phil Jones, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Dean Henderson could also go.
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The future of Juan Mata, whose contract is also up, remains in doubt although the Dutchman may decide to give him one more year.
Marcus Rashford became so unhappy first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer then his interim replacement Ralf Rangnick, that he is considering his future.
The cull, after United’s worst season of the Premier League era and the wilderness that beckons, is liable to be brutal.
Yet if any one player epitomises how far United have fallen in recent years, how miserable life has become supporting the club, then it is surely Pogba.
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Just don’t tell United’s communications department that.
For the 835-word statement released to confirm the Frenchman’s departure would make almost anyone believe that he had actually led the club to a stunning new era of success.
As opposed to becoming the ego within an enigma described by Jose Mourinho before he was sacked as a “virus”.
The club’s spin doctors have created a different, quite surreal image of the Frenchman.
United’s website featured a picture of Pogba entitled : “Thank you Paul.”
The article that followed went on to describe “a career that had brought so many individual high moments, so many beautiful goals, assists and pieces of skill.”
Since returning from Juventus having deserted for the Serie A club in 2012, much to the fury of Sir Alex Ferguson, he has played 226 games, scored only 39 goals and provided 51 assists.
A World Cup winner he may be, but he lifted only the Europa League and League Cup under Mourinho the year after his return.
Hardly the stats of an inspirational icon.
Not so in United’s farewell.
Instead his failure to be the central figure of a renaissance has been air-brushed away.
The 29 year old’s maddening inability to utilise his undoubted skills gets a startling makeover in the kind of description that would make the fond farewell of a hero.
“Everyone at the club would like to congratulate Paul on his successful career, and thank him for his contributions to Manchester United,” is the message that has infuriated many of the faithful.
“For a boy that joined the Academy at 16 to make over 200 United appearances and lift the Youth Cup, along with two major pieces of silverware – not to mention the World Cup at international level – is something that should be applauded and celebrated.”
The statement concludes: “We wish him all the best for the next steps on a remarkable journey."
United also tweeted 'Once a red, always a red' and 'thank you for your service @PaulPogba' with a clapping hand emoji.
He also posted a video of some of his career highlights on Instagram, alongside the caption: “I feel privileged to have played for this club.
“Many beautiful moments and memories but most importantly an unconditional support from the fans. Thank you.”
Yet Pogba, like the club that paid him £300,000 a week to often be bang–average and frequently anonymous, forget that he spent half his time angling for a move to Real Madrid.
Every summer his agent Mina Raiola, who passed away suddenly in April, agitated for a transfer to the Bernabeu.
United continually refused to budge despite what amounted to a series of slaps in the face.
They could have taken the money and let him run.
Instead, influenced to a large extent by Solskjaer after he replaced Mourinho, and the shirt his name sold, they kept hoping that he would settle down then stand and deliver.
He never did and while United may say that he will be gone but not forgotten plenty of the club’s fans took to social media to deliver their own very different farewell.
One Tweeted : “Best bit of news from the club in a while..good riddance! #Pogba”
Another declared: "Thank you #pogvirus . You won’t be missed."
A third read: "@paulpogba best wishes, and learn to talk less and play more."
There were plenty more responses like those while Pogba is indeed now talking – with Juventus about going back there.
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Six years on since his return as the so – called prodigal son he leaves Old Trafford as a pariah for so many.
Just not amongst those within the club who have eyes but would not see.
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