Neil Humphreys: Twice the talent, double the trouble
PSG star forward Neymar, Man United midfield maestro Pogba no longer worth the aggravation
In an act of generosity, Paul Pogba turned up for his pre-season tour. The Australians, it seems, were considered worthy of his presence.
Whether he'll feel the same about Singapore next week remains to be seen.
Will he still be around in a fortnight? Will he take his disagreement with Jesse Lingard further? Will he fall out with anyone else? Will his soap opera dissolve into frothy bubbles of irrelevance or will we lose the will to live instead?
Oh, there's also a football club involved, called Manchester United, the least important party in Pogba's tedious saga.
But at least Pogba showed up. Neymar didn't.
He was supposed to return for pre-season training, but focused on his sponsorship commitments instead. He claimed a breakdown in communication.
Everyone else pointed to those miraculous contraptions called mobile phones, once they'd stopped giggling.
Oh, there's also a football club involved, called Paris Saint-Germain, the least important party in Neymar's tedious saga.
This week, Neymar and Pogba achieved something truly remarkable. They left us feeling a modicum of sympathy for both PSG and United.
United's owners have drained the club of more than £1 billion (S$1.69b) in interest repayments. PSG's backers are engaged in a long-term "sportswashing" project.
And yet, the clubs practically occupy the moral high ground, thanks to their dealings with the incorrigible duo.
Neymar and Pogba are essentially sitting in the corner of the classroom, arms folded, lips wobbling and refusing to join in until they get to sit where they want.
Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola, a caricature of greedy agents, has told everyone (i.e. Juventus and Real Madrid) of his client's "willingness" to leave United.
Considering United's current infrastructure makes the Titanic look like a sturdy vessel, Pogba's calculated comments are almost understandable.
Club sources have questioned the traditional, "British style" coaching of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who happens to be Norwegian. Other sources complained about the training intensity. Further sources suggested Pogba's antics had irritated teammates and left him isolated.
Leaked stories and well-placed sources seem to follow Pogba. Whatever their veracity, these negative reports serve two functions. They disrupt a weakened club and lay the groundwork for the Frenchman's departure.
These stories, which appear daily now, mostly benefit Pogba, to the further detriment of a club he seeks to leave.
When David de Gea wanted to join Real, he expressed his interest in joining his boyhood club and then returned to the day job.
There were no leaks. No further comments. No agent dangling his prized carrot in Turin and Madrid.
But everything is about Pogba now. The pre-season trip, his alleged row with Lingard in Perth, his desire for a new challenge, it's all Pogba. The name on the back of the jersey has usurped the one on the front.
Solskjaer is being played like a Stradivarius.
If Pogba leaves, Solskjaer loses his best player. If Pogba stays, Solskjaer retains his most divisive and polarising player.
How the club allowed the Frenchman's farce to spiral so quickly is indicative of their lack of leadership and the desperate need for a director of football.
But Pogba is at least pretending to care, going through the motions in Australia, just in case his Machiavellian agent fails to pull off another transfer coup.
Neymar, on the other hand, remains the same exasperating figure he was two years ago, when he threw away his partnership with the greatest of all time in favour of more money and regular ego massages.
PSG HAVE LEVERAGE
He swopped Lionel Messi's Barcelona for PSG's sparkly bling, which really was like swopping a part in a Meryl Streep movie for a starring role with the Kardashians.
And now the Brazilian is stomping his feet until someone says he can run back to Barcelona.
But Neymar cost Les Parisiens 222 million euros (S$338.5m) for two incomplete seasons and the French want a return on their investment, which means cash plus Philippe Coutinho at least (knowing that a straight cash deal is out if Barca also buy Antoine Griezmann).
Unlike United, PSG have leverage. Pogba's softly-softly approach doesn't work for Neymar, so the Brazilian essentially went on strike.
Rather than acknowledge any culpability - injury-hit campaigns and disciplinary issues ensured he was rarely consistent enough - Neymar would rather walk out.
Just like Pogba. They are peas from the same precocious pod.
Similar talents. Similar tactics. Make a mess. Force the transfer. New jersey. New smile. Never look back.
And they won't. Why should they? They'll get what they want.
Hopefully, their transfer manoeuvring will eventually make the most of their remarkable talents. But, right now, they run the risk of being better players in the transfer market than on the pitch.
Neymar became the most expensive player in the world when he moved from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain for 222m euros (S$338.5m) in 2017. A year earlier, Paul Pogba had set the record when Manchester United landed the France midfielder from Juventus for 105m euros.
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