Two hours after the world champions drew 0-0 with Germany in Munich, Paul Pogba emerged to briefly hold court, in the process doing little to settle the swirl of speculation surrounding his Old Trafford future.
“It is nothing to do with me, rumours are rumours – at the moment I am at United but who knows what will happen in the near future,” he said (depending on which translation you choose to believe).
Pogba is a smart and intelligent guy off the pitch, so he knows precisely what he is doing, and the impact of it, when he speaks about his commitment, or lack thereof, to the club.
Despite Jose Mourinho’s ability to play the media game as well as anybody in football, Pogba is also fully aware he has a crucial advantage over his United manager in that, as a star player approaching his best years, he is more of an asset to his club and therefore holds all the power.
Pogba is vital on and off the pitch, and the Glazer family and Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, will not easily give up their prize asset to Barcelona or Real Madrid simply because their manager cannot get the best from him for 90 minutes every weekend.
When Pogba signed as the-then most expensive player on the planet, Woodward described the deal as one that had been two years in the making. It makes you wonder, indeed, if Mourinho ever really wanted him – it makes you wonder whether Pogba was just another commercial signing by the board to push “brand United” further into the money-spinning stratosphere.
As unpalatable as it will be too many United supporters, Pogba is arguably worth more to United off the pitch than he is on it because of his commercial assets, reach and power.
In an age where brand recognition is king, having a player such as Pogba, who is as easily recognised in New York, Beijing, Johannesburg and Jakarta as he is in Manchester, is a priceless commodity for United.
Pogba knows this too, as does his agent, Mino Raiola, so there will be plenty more unguarded comments and thinly veiled threats to consider a move elsewhere during the months ahead.
Whether the end game is designed to deliver a lucrative new contract at United to take him beyond Alexis Sanchez, who is doing little to justify his £400,000-a-week salary as the club’s highest earner, or secure a big money move elsewhere remains to be seen, but when the time comes for United to make a decision, it won’t be Mourinho’s to make.
The buck does not stop with the manager anymore — Mourinho admitted that himself at the start of the season when unhappy that the club failed to secure all of his summer targets, he claimed: “I’m now a coach, not a manager.”
Had Mourinho been in charge of transfer ins and outs at United, Anthony Martial would have been sold this summer, rather than kept on negotiating a new contract, while a new centre-half would have arrived, despite concerns of value for money from the senior figures in the boardroom.
Mourinho failed to get his way on Martial or the defender, so don’t expect him to come out on top in the Pogba tug of war.
The recent toning down of Mourinho’s language towards Pogba is a sign of his realisation that there can only be one winner in what has become a two-way battle of egos.
But if Mourinho has taken a deep breath and chosen pragmatism as the way forward, Pogba has allowed himself to be consumed by the whole affair and he is the one who must now look at himself in the mirror.
Last Thursday’s episode was an example of how Pogba is now beginning to regard himself as the star character in his own soap opera.
It is all a game to Pogba and his representatives because they know, whatever the outcome, they will emerge as well-remunerated winners.
It is not difficult to see why Mourinho has become so frustrated with his £89m midfielder, but the Special One is now pretty much the Powerless One when it comes to dealing with him.