Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Paul Pogba remains committed to Manchester United after missing the club’s final pre-season game.
Pogba – who said in June that “it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else” – was absent for the International Champions Cup penalty shoot-out win over AC Milan in Cardiff with what Solskjaer had described as a “back spasm”.
It was reported on Friday night that staff and players were shocked when the France midfielder failed to turn up for the scheduled flight.
But Solskjaer said Pogba’s name being included in the party was down to an administrative error, and he was aware that the World Cup winner would not be travelling to Cardiff.
Asked whether he was concerned about Pogba’s commitment to United, Solskjaer replied: “I’ve no doubts at all.
“I wasn’t expecting him (on the plane). I spoke to him after training and he didn’t feel right.
“Paul will probably be back early next week training. It’s not an injury, he just felt some pain. We didn’t want to risk anything this weekend and he should be OK for Chelsea. I hope so.”
United, meanwhile, are close to completing the signing of Harry Maguire from Leicester.
The 26-year-old England defender will cost £80million – and Solskjaer expects him to be in contention to make his debut against Chelsea in next weekend’s Premier League opener.
“Hopefully the last little details will be in place, so we can announce something very soon,” Solskjaer said.
“Let’s get the last details over the line. But he’s played a few games over the summer so we’ll just have to assess him as and when.”
On his team selection for the Chelsea game, Solskjaer added: “I’ve got an idea.
“It’s been five good weeks, some players have done well to get into the team when you thought they would need some time.
“But eight days is a long time in football.”
Solskjaer also said he had spoken to Romelu Lukaku over a controversial social media post revealing confidential details of a training sprint session.
The Belgium striker, thought to be on the verge of a move to Serie A, took to Twitter on Friday to respond to criticism that he lacks pace by posting statistics from a running test on the Perth leg of United’s July pre-season tour.
Lukaku has since removed the post, which revealed he was second to only Diogo Dalot in a session, which charted the speeds of 22 other first-team players.
The tweet was accompanied by the words “lack of pace” alongside running emojis.
“I’ve spoken to Rom, that’s case closed,” said Solskjaer, who confirmed club captain Ashley Young will wear the armband when he is on the pitch.
Goalkeeper David De Gea skippered the side in Cardiff – a game United won 5-4 on penalties after Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard had scored in a 2-2 draw.
“David is in contention, but when Ash is on the pitch he will carry the armband,” Solskjaer said.
Donny van de Beek has stated that Real Madrid have been in touch with Ajax over a possible transfer.
The midfielder however was reluctant to divulge any more information while a potential deal hangs in the balance.
“Real Madrid has already contacted Ajax. I can’t say much more than that,” Van de Beek told reporters after Ajax’s first Eredivisie game of the season against Vitesse.
The player told Fox Sports: “Without doubt, my agent has spoken with them, that’s what it is, but I prefer to speak about football.”
With Manchester United refusing to let Paul Pogba leave the club, Madrid have turned to the Dutchman as an alternative.
Meanwhile, former Ajax and Madrid player Rafael van der Vaart has urged Van de Beek to make the switch.
“I think he deserves to go [to Real Madrid] and that he has a good chance of succeeding,” he said on Dutch channel NOS.
“He played great in the Champions League last season and they know all about him. He is a hard-working, normal guy, and he would be adored.”
“It’s an ideal time to go to Real Madrid. They’ve had a bad pre-season & the fans expect a great signing. They’d give Van de Beek minutes, but competition is very strong. His situation would be very different to the one at Ajax, but Real Madrid suit his ability to score”
“If I were him [Van de Beek], I would even go to Madrid by bicycle.”
Harry Maguire is not the best defender in the world, yet he’s poised to be the most expensive.
It’s no surprise then that critics have been quick to paint a picture of Leicester City laughing all the way to the bank. How have Manchester United paid more for Maguire than Liverpool did for the gold standard of centre-backs, Virgil van Dijk?
But consider for a second how ludicrous the Dutchman’s fee appeared just 18 months ago. They say you can’t throw money at a problem but Liverpool solved theirs when Van Dijk’s arrival instantaneously transformed their defence.
Also consider that his transfer inflated the modern valuation of defenders. If Van Dijk had to move from Liverpool today, he’d go for a lot more than £75m. In theory, he should be priced quite comfortably above the £100m mark, putting Maguire’s £80m fee into perspective.
Now that we’ve fulfilled an unwritten obligation to address that eye-watering figure, let’s move on to more pertinent things, like its implications.
What United are essentially paying for is an all-important top four spot and it’s hardly credulous to assume they probably start that race in a better position than rivals Arsenal and Chelsea following the events of this summer.
Yes, the Gunners have signed a sensational player in Nicolas Pepe, but their attack was the least of their concerns. That would be like United securing Paulo Dybala and no centre-back at all.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have been crippled by a transfer ban and new manager Frank Lampard has a daunting task on his hands in dealing with Champions League commitments while Arsenal and United are likely to field fringe players in the Europa League.
United’s last campaign was a disaster to the extent that a repeat is almost inconceivable, yet they were only five points from a Champions League spot.
The acquisition of Aaron Wan-Bissaka in itself was a huge boost to a back-line severely lacking quality. Maguire’s addition cannot be overstated. His arrival gives United a solid foundation to build on, a back five that – on paper – can legitimately rival the best in the league.
Of course, many have pointed to Maguire’s obvious weakness. A lack of pace, especially against quick, diminutive forwards has been billed as his Achilles heel. As far as attributes go, he may not even be the ideal centre-back for United.
Kalidou Koulibaly is a more complete option and widely regarded as Van Dijk’s closest competitor. Then there’s RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate, much younger of course, but already looking like the real deal.
Maguire doesn’t boast the range of qualities the ideal modern day centre-back should possess but he comes awfully close and the best players are able to compensate for shortcomings. Nemanja Vidic was never blessed with pace, a flaw Fernando Torres exposed mercilessly on more than one occasion. But he was still one of the best centre-backs in the game at the time.
78% - Harry Maguire won 78% of his aerial duels in the 2018-19 Premier League season; a better success rate than any of the 205 other players to be involved in 50+ aerials in the competition, just ahead of Virgil van Dijk (75%). Slab. pic.twitter.com/SK0OVlUHU6— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) August 2, 2019
Ultimately what United should be really excited by is how much of an improvement Maguire is to their current crop. According to Opta, he won more duels both aerial (4.1) and in total (6.3), made more clearances (5.3) and more passes (61) per 90 minutes than all the centre-backs at Old Trafford in the Premier League last season.
Having emerged as a figurehead not just at Leicester but also during England’s remarkable World Cup run last year, he represents a massive upgrade in character and leadership, traits that can’t be quantified but are nonetheless crucial and where United’s squad as a whole has been lacking.
Maguire’s arrival is far from a slam dunk for United. He should’ve been signed last season but the Red Devils couldn’t pull it off, much to Jose Mourinho’s chagrin. They’ve had to pay through their nose as well, but they got the job done and that was imperative.
That’s been the theme of this summer for United. They were always going to be held at ransom but they simply couldn’t afford a repeat of last year. Daniel James was a good buy and Wan-Bissaka an excellent one, addressing two problem areas.
Maguire’s addition checked another box – the biggest one – and though a midfielder would be ideal now, in getting most of their targets United have earned the luxury to fantasize about signing a genuine superstar in Dybala as well and in doing so, make a real statement.
They have no business being in the market for a player of that calibre at the moment but Maguire’s signing has lifted a huge weight off their shoulders. Such is its significance.