Amidst the unabashed frivolity of the holiday celebrations, it can also be a time for sober reflection as we contemplate life without those we’ve loved and lost. This Christmas was set to be especially tough as there’s a (semi) popular lad at the club who’d been missing since the end of September. He was making sporadic posts on social media and was spotted in a couple of far-flung locations during his extended absence, but where was he? Thankfully, our prayers were answered as Paul Pogba turned up at last. Not on an exercise bike, a basketball court or dancing the Shaku Shaku… I mean actually in a United shirt.
What joy and relief we felt as he entered the fray at Vicarage Road as his erstwhile teammates cruised to a 0-2 defeat against rock-bottom relegation certs. He looked half-decent during his 20 minute cameo, prompting all manner of excitable musings from the xG virgins on social media. Am I being too cynical? Almost certainly. Maybe I should switch my brain off and pay attention to Raiola when he’s claiming his man wants to stay at OT and “win prizes”. I don’t think so. I expect the reality here is the human slug fears Juve/Barca/Madrid might have focused their attention elsewhere. This was nothing more than a vain attempt to build bridges and secure improved terms from United as a back-up plan.
Or, perhaps not. No sooner did Pogba make a return to first team duties, he promptly disappeared again. His “people” deciding there’s another problem with the ankle that now requires an operation – cue another few months of him flitting round the globe in a desperate rush to find match fitness. Even mild-mannered Ole looked completely exasperated when breaking the news during his post-match interview at the Emirates. I can’t say I’ve had enough of Pogba and his “people” now, because I lost all patience with them 2 years ago. If you’ve still got any faith whatsoever in this clown then I quite honestly feel for you at this point.
Following Haaland Jnr’s decision to move to Dortmund instead of Old Trafford, I suspect we’ve now reached the final stretch of Raiola’s influence on the current squad ecosystem. Fergie certainly wouldn’t entertain him, and it was clear in summer 2016 that Woodward was taking a huge gamble by ignoring past indiscretions and welcoming him and 3 of his players (Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Zlatan) back into the fold. Another of his charges, Lukaku, would arrive a year later.
In some respects Raiola is no different from any other agent. He nurtures a strong relationship with each of his players when they’re young, he has extensive contacts throughout Europe and he’s focused on earning himself a few quid. He reportedly speaks 7 languages so he’s clearly not thick. That only tells half the story though. A line from Zlatan’s book provides an insight to how Raiola differs from the majority of his peers: “The guy wasn’t actually a mafioso. He just looked and acted like one.”
We can therefore conclude that Raiola fancies himself as a bit of a maverick. He wears jeans and sunglasses to meetings and probably quotes The Godfather trilogy like millennials know Harry Potter. He bought Al Capone’s ex-house in Miami, which is just about the most tryhard gangsta flex imaginable. For a self-styled loose cannon who’s unfazed when pitted against adversaries like Moggi, Berlusconi and Ferguson during negotiations, Ed Woodward was always going to be a pushover in comparison. This was never going to end well for United.
Aside from all the posturing, it’s clear that Raiola is singularly dedicated to each of his players and will do anything possible to orchestrate the most lucrative career path open to them – with a large emphasis on the word ‘lucrative’. Despite being involved in high-profile deals like Bergkamp to Inter (from Ajax) as far back as 1993 and Nedved to Juventus (from Lazio) in 2001; it was the hook-up with Zlatan back in 2004 that helped him realise his full potential in plundering the riches of European football’s 21st century transfer market.
Raiola wants his players to adopt the same mindset he himself possesses. Clubs exist to be exploited – until they have outlived their usefulness in terms of gargantuan bonus payments and a platform from which his clients can temporarily project their talents. Quaint notions of loyalty and longevity don’t exist because earnings are best maximised by instigating a move every 2-3 years. It was no exaggeration when I previously surmised that Pogba’s long-anticipated switch to Spain was being planned before he’d even re-signed for United.
With the club in its current state, it’s extremely doubtful whether de Ligt or Haaland would have chosen to come here regardless of any agent’s influence. We’re a dysfunctional mess and any emerging starlets would be best advised to steer clear of M16 at present. However, I can’t say I’m too despondent about this state of affairs. Even if the club was on a secure footing, I’d prefer to avoid the de-stabilising presence of this fat little man whose sole focus in life is pimping out young footballers so he can eventually bid on another summer house in Florida.
It was still amusing to see Woodward scrambling to brief his regular press mouthpieces after news broke of Haaland’s ‘snub’. Yes, of course United pulled out of the proposed deal as they weren’t prepared to give into Raiola’s excessive demands. I mean, they’ve only paid him an estimated £30-£40 million in commission fees over the last 3 years. However, we’re now supposed to believe the club has suffered a sudden bout of fiscal modesty and no longer wants to risk being exploited.
Do me a favour. The fact is, United are the biggest, the richest and currently run by the daftest. This is why the club has been at the centre of numerous catastrophic transfers in recent times where we’ve repeatedly had our pants pulled down. Whilst Woodward remains in charge, United will continue to be at the mercy of leeches like Raiola and Pogba.
Copyright Red News – January 2020