Bryan Robson believes agents have too much influence on modern players and the Manchester United great hopes wantaway midfielder Paul Pogba continues to knuckle down amid ongoing speculation.
Three years after being brought back to Old Trafford in what was a world-record deal, the 26-year-old has openly admitted that he is ready for “a new challenge somewhere else”.
Pogba said there was “no need” to speak about his situation after United opened their pre-season tour of Australia with a 2-0 win against Perth Glory on Saturday but talk continues of a move to former club Juventus or Real Madrid.
Robson knows a thing or two about being a star with the Red Devils when things are not going so well and has also been in the unique position of attending most of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s training sessions in Perth.
“There is a lot of speculation in the media about Paul,” the former midfielder said. “He is a top player.
“You are contracted to Man United, (so you have to) get your head down, do your pre-season, which, from what I have seen in the training sessions he has done and if something happens and the club want it to happen, or if it doesn’t, you have to get on.
“You are contracted to Manchester United. You have to give everything for that club, that team and the fans.”
Pogba is not the only United player whose future is unclear but his agent Mino Raiola has been more vocal than some when speaking about his client.
“Players are influenced far too much by their agents instead of making their own decisions,” Robson, who played for United between 1981 and 1994, said.
“OK, you might want some advice on what you might sign for and when you do move but you are your own person, you can show the path you want to do in your own career.
“I don’t think many players do that. They are always taking advice from agents.
“Obviously agents want players to move on because they make money.
“If a player is loyal to a club and stays there, the agent doesn’t make as much money. That is a big influence, not just at Manchester United but all across the game.
“Players should have a good look at themselves in the mirror and make what they want to make from their football career.”
United are still planning for an immediate future with Pogba and preparations are going well, even if the transfer activity has yet to heat up as they look to make up for last season’s disappointing sixth-place finish.
“Our stats last season were well down on other teams,” Robson added. “That can’t be right.
“As a coach and a manager, you want your stats to be right up there with the best.
“It doesn’t mean you are going to be a great player just because your stats are good for running about, but when you have the ability of some of our players and your stats are down, that is definitely something you can work on.
“I think Ole realised that when he came into the club and he wanted to improve on it, so you can compete with the top teams.
“They know they’ve got to improve on last season. I was at the Player of the Year do right at the end of the season and you could see the disappointment in the players, that they knew they hadn’t achieved what they wanted to achieve.
“And we know that we’ve got to step up our game if we want to compete with Man City and Liverpool next year – and it all starts from here.
“We’ve made a couple of good young signings. Hopefully we can maybe get a few more players in, but in saying that you can only get the players in if the players are available and they’re as good as what the manager and coaching staff want in the club.
“But I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Pre-season is a perilous time of year to be a football fan. You can get a little too giddy about a new signing’s Ballon d’Or prospects sky-rocketing because of a decent performance against a bunch of nobodies, or the world could be ending because of your club’s lack of transfer activity.
Manchester United fans in-particular tend to let themselves get carried away by emotion – be it joy, despair, delirium or melancholy.
This has become especially prevalent in seasons following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement as the legacy he built has slowly started to erode.
From the peaks of appointing abrasive, albeit serial champion, Jose Mourinho and landing marquee signings Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, to the troughs of Jose’s ugly and predictable demise and the abject failure of the aforementioned trio.
In their inaugural outing of pre-season, United overcame a tenacious yet limited Perth Glory 2-0. The A-League side provided a stern defensive test for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team before eventually being outclassed in the second half at Optus Stadium.
New signings Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka made their debuts and impressed, as did youngsters Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and James Garner, while reportedly wantaway Paul Pogba was unplayable.
Inevitably social media went into overdrive after the final whistle – to varying degrees of happiness, anger and of course ridiculous hyperbole.
“2 minutes in and I’m convinced Dan James is the missing piece in the United jigsaw and I’m sorry to say that we’re winning the Premier League this season,” tweeted one United fan.
Another, having seen Wan-Bissaka’s first outing in United colours, said: “Can we build a statue for Wan-Bissaka?”
Of course, a lot of this outpouring of adulation was tongue-in-cheek, though every fanbase has its cranks. And even the most stoic and sensible of fans can be guilty of getting carried away by the early throes of pre-season.
Glory against Perth needs to be appreciated for what it was. A decent initial run-out in which the new signings shone, as did a number of others. United looked sharp and hungry, with their high press particularly impressive.
A dose of reality, however, needs to be administered. This was a depleted Glory side who had a 15 and two 17-year-olds on the bench, and play in a league that would make teams in the lower reaches of Ligue 1 take issue with being called farmers.
Tougher opposition lie in wait. Arch-rivals Leeds United, Inter Milan, Tottenham and AC Milan – plus an appointment with Kristiansund, Solskjaer’s home town club – are the upcoming fixtures.
Not to mention United’s start to the Premier League campaign is tough – they host Chelsea on opening day and play Wolves, Leicester and Arsenal in their first seven fixtures.
But the positives should be dwelled upon. You should head into the new campaign with optimism. This is even more poignant for a club that endured one of their worst seasons in recent history last term and need a reason to feel positive.
And while expectations need to be tempered, they should not be tamed following 90 minutes of 2019/20 pre-season that has already eclipsed the build-up of 12 months ago.
Pre-season last summer yielded three thoroughly uninspiring opening draws – against Club America (in which a 78th-minute equaliser from Juan Mata was required) and San Jose Earthquakes. The third against AC Milan saw United eventually prevail (if that’s the right word) on penalties.
They were embarrassed by perennial rivals Liverpool 4-1 in front of more than 100,000 at Michigan Stadium before a solitary 2-1 victory came against a Real Madrid side several weeks behind United in their preparations. A 1-0 defeat to Bayern Munich bookended the summer.
Now, while you should not make the mistake of placing the importance of results during pre-season over performances, there really was precious little for United fans to take away from their abysmal American trip.
The scoreline against Liverpool actually flattered United. The chastening loss at ‘The Big House’ served as an indicator of the huge issues bubbling under the surface.
Mourinho, moody because he was not given sufficient backing in the transfer window to address what he deemed a critical issue at centre-back, and meandering into his usually murky third season, had a meltdown – harshly targeting United’s youngsters who he’d hand selected to go on tour.
“This is not my squad, this is not even half of my squad. This is not even 30 per cent of my squad,” the manager said.
“We are not playing here to improve the team or to improve our dynamic or to improve our routines, we are playing here just to try to survive and to have some not very ugly results.”
Survive is what Mourinho managed to do, until December, when he was sacked.
Solskjaer tried – initially very successfully – to patch things up. But even though he has perhaps an insurmountable job on his hands, with talismanic midfielder Pogba seeking a move, United appear to be much more upbeat Down Under.
Despite what he and his agent say publicly, Pogba was professional and put in a pristine performance on the field in Perth, setting up Marcus Rashord’s goal.
In what seemed a rebuke to Mourinho’s stinging criticism a year ago, 18-year-old James Garner’s rocket rubber-stamped a convincing victory. Mesmeric Gomes looks to have ratcheted up his development from any previous United performance of his while 17-year-old Greenwood – he of 26 goals in 30 appearances at various age grades for United last season – tormented Ivan Franjic at left-back in the second half and was unlucky not to count himself among the scorers.
James’ speed, guile and runs in behind look like Premier League defenders might well have some sleepless nights next season while Wan-Bissaka – nicknamed ‘Spider’ at Crystal Palace – caught several opponents in his web, with four out of four tackles completed, picking right up from where he left off last season.
United fans will discover more about their side when they face Leeds at the same venue on Wednesday. It’s important not to get carried away. But it’s equally important to believe better times are coming.
Daniel James aspires to be like Manchester United great Ryan Giggs whose advice, belief and support is helping the Welsh winger live out his dreams.
Just 17 months after making his senior debut for Swansea, the 21-year-old’s remarkable rise shows no sign of abating – despite some notable knocks along the way.
Seeing a move to Leeds collapse at the start of the year was one such setback, yet it meant James would instead become Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first signing as United manager in a deal that could reach around £18million.
The winger has also become a Wales international during that time and could scarcely ask for a better mentor than international manager Giggs, who knows a thing or two about succeeding at Old Trafford.
“Giggsy, as soon as I came into the Wales set up, had ambitions for me,” James said.
“The way he brought me and a lot of other youngsters through has been amazing.
“He spoke to me when I first signed for United. His advice was to be myself, which is what I will try to do.
“He wasn’t a bad player was he? What he did at Manchester United was amazing. Every young winger looks up to a person like him.
“He was playing in the Premier League until he was 40 and he was still beating players. Credit to him, the way he looks after his body.
“It is amazing for me, when I go away on internationals, to learn from people like him. He is obviously someone I aspire to be like.”
Making anywhere near the impact of Giggs will be difficult, but James has made a good start to life at United on and off the pitch.
The 21-year-old has impressed in pre-season training and spent more time than any of his team-mates signing autographs and posing for selfies on Thursday when 12,000 fans descended on the WACA for training.
Two days on and 50,206 were in attendance as James made his first appearance for the club in a 2-0 win against Perth Glory at the mammoth Optus Stadium, where he was the standout performer in the first half.
“Walking out there, with the amount of fans that have come from everywhere is surreal, really,” James said. “Playing with those players is a dream come true.
“I don’t think it (signing all those autographs on Thursday) will ever sink in, really.
“Walking out at Old Trafford is the big one. That is when it will probably sink in.
“But the amount of fans that came to training shows the support this club has got. The amount of fans that turned up tonight from all over is just amazing.”
James has barely stopped grinning since joining the group – quite the contrast to the negativity that surrounds the club following a poor season and a lack of summer activity.
Asked if that negativity had played on his mind before deciding to join, James said: “Not at all. When a club like Manchester United come calling you can’t say no.
“As soon as they did there was no thought in my mind not to be here. Today the support was absolutely amazing. I am so glad to be here.”