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Zidane's control of transfers at R Madrid, makes Paul Pogba deal a real possibility

Zidane's control of transfers at R Madrid, makes Paul Pogba deal a real possibility

The French legend is in a very strong position and his countryman is top of his list of targets.

THERE was shock and awe among the assembled reporters at Zinedine Zidane’s post training press conference Saturday lunchtime - as the returning Real Madrid coach made very clear that he wants Paul Pogba to join him at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this summer.

Zidane was [in]famous during his first two-and-a-half-year spell as Madrid coach for giving little away in his media appearances, with his non-native Spanish language skills generally helping to keep his answers as basic and bland as possible.

There has been a slight change in this since the former galactico returned to the job last month - with the word ‘cambios’ [changes] being used very often whenever he is asked what will happen when the current disastrous Madrid campaign ends.

But exact details have been few and far between. Right up until he was asked by a French reporter on Saturday what he thought of Pogba’s comments last week about coming to play with him at some point in the future.

“I like [Pogba] a lot, that is nothing new,” Zidane said in his native language. “I know him personally. He is a truly different player, few players can do what he can. A midfielder who can defend, attack, do everything. He is not my player, is at Manchester [United], so we must respect that. But he has always said that after Manchester, then Madrid has always interested him. So when his experience at Manchester ends, why not come here to Madrid?”

This was much more than anybody had expected - and had reporters of all nationalities quickly contacting their desks to let them know they had a bigger story coming than who would start Sunday’s La Liga game at home to bottom side Huesca.

“Real Madrid is a dream for everyone,” Pogba had said from France camp. “It is one of the biggest clubs in the world. Zidane is the manager there. It is a dream for every child and every player. For now, I am at Manchester. Later, we don't know what the future holds.”

The two apparent friends appeared perfectly in concert - almost as if they had spoken personally recently to coordinate their messages.

While the bluntness of both player and coach may have come as an initial surprise, there is nothing new about Madrid [or fellow La Liga giants Barcelona] using such public means to prize targets away from Premier League clubs. Supporters of United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham will be well aware that they usually get their man [unless that is the Bernabeu fax machine malfunctions at the wrong moment].

Everyone is now aware that the summer will see a big squad change around at the Bernabeu. Pogba has joined a long list with Paris Saint Germain pair Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly and Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen among the other reported targets.

Whether Madrid can sign all of these is unlikely, but Zidane seemed pretty chipper about loadsamoney being spent when asked on Saturday if any player was worth Mbappe's reported €280m pricetag. “You cannot say these days what a player is worth - €100m, €20m, €300m...” he said.

“It is up to the clubs. When I came here they said the price of €72 million was crazy, and in the end look what happened.”

Getting Pogba out of Manchester would presumably require a fee higher than the then-world-record €105 million paid to Juventus in 2016, and also much above that merited by his average performance level over first three seasons at Old Trafford, where some might think now is the moment to take advantage of Madrid’s interest and cash in.

“Pogba is too much of an enigma for anyone to know whether he is genuinely one of the best midfielders in the world or merely one whose reputation exceeds his actual contribution,” wrote ESPN’s Mark Ogden, who knows Old Trafford's corridors better than most.

“The United hierarchy would be well within their rights to consider whether, at 26, Pogba is the genuine article or somebody who will never quite become what many believe he should be.”

Zidane clearly seems to be in the former camp. It is also true that Pogba has had a much better 2018/19 than some of his critics claim. 14 goals and 11 assists across 38 games for United this season is statistically an excellent return for a midfielder, especially after playing most of the first half shackled by Jose Mourinho, and coming down off the high of winning the World Cup with France last summer.

Zidane will be confident he can get the best out of his fellow countryman. The former galactico’s special sauce as Madrid coach is his ability to speak on a peer level to his squad’s biggest stars, which has generally worked out very well [Gareth Bale apart, obviously].

The interest in Pogba - as Zidane suggested last weekend - is also very long standing. He personally argued for Madrid to get involved when the then 23-year-old was leaving Juventus back in 2016, if not as forcefully in public. But reported problems between Madrid president Florentino Perez and superagent Mino Raiola nixed any possibility at the time.

Now things are different though - and it looks very like Zidane has been able to use Madrid’s dire season in his absence to increase his influence with Perez over signings. That means there could be a lot more French spoken at Valdebebas next season – with Pogba not the only new arrival being welcomed.


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Dermot Corrigan
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