Saul Niguez caused a stir on social media this week before fans’ intrigue was ended in a predictable fashion. Seven little words. One ambiguous statement. And all entirely by design, don’t doubt that for a moment.
“New club. I’ll announce it. Three days…”
That was the message Atletico Madrid star Saul Niguez posted on Twitter on Sunday. It was a tease, a way to create intrigue. But also a rather blatant PR stunt.
It worked rather well, too, but the reality is most knew what Saul was doing. And there was – even if some may disagree – nothing wrong with it.
Footballers’ lives are lived in the public eye; their futures the source of constant speculation. If they then leverage that for their own good, it’s fair game.
Supporters may not like it, they may even feel teasing a move away is disrespectful to their club. But ultimately players can’t and shouldn’t ever be silenced. Their thoughts, opinions and views are as valid as any other.
Unfortunately and sadly, the repercussions for airing them are often greater. United star Paul Pogba knows this better than most.
The French midfielder has become a lightning rod for criticism since he returned to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2016. When it comes to the 27-year-old, nothing is off the table.
His wealth, his performances, his haircut, his social media presence, his commercial interests, his future. All have been debated, all have analysed. Everyone appears to have an opinion on Pogba.
“It seems I have less right than others to make mistakes,” Pogba said last year.
Mistakes. It’s a loaded word, one that implies guilt. Yet how many has Pogba actually made at Old Trafford?
Sure the World Cup winner hasn’t always performed at the level many expect of him, but who can honestly say they’ve never had an off day or a difficult period at work?
Some will jump to previous statements about leaving United. However, Pogba hasn’t ever come out and explicitly stated his desire is to walk away from Old Trafford. Last summer he spoke about perhaps needing a new challenge and in August admitted he didn’t know what the future would hold.
He said: “Obviously there have been things said but only time will tell. This question mark remains. However, as I said, I am here in Manchester. I enjoy playing with my teammates and I always want to win every game. I always give it everything.”
These musings, responses to questions asked, are hardly relationship-ending declarations of intent. Pogba was being honest.
Make no mistake, the French star could’ve spent the last two years posturing and playing to the army of reporters who cover his every move, both on the pitch and off it.
It’s what Saul did with his Twitter post which, as expected, ultimately had nothing to do with him leaving Atletico Madrid – he and his brother Aarón have created a new youth football team called Club Costa City in Elche.
And let’s not forget that prior to his transfer to Chelsea in 2012, Eden Hazard dropped cryptic message after cryptic message on social media to stoke the conversation about which club he would join that summer.
Pogba hasn’t done so. In fact, he’s been far more reserved than many when publicly discussing his future. Yet he still receives more criticism than most.
“It’s my every day,” he admitted in an interview with The Times in 2019. “It’s become normal to me and it doesn’t change me. I am still the boy I used to be as a kid. I’ve grown, bit taller, but I’m the same person who followed his dream and has the same personality.
“People that know me will say the same; I’m just myself and I don’t want to change. People like me like that. People will hate me like that. People will love me like that.”
Prior to football’s suspension there were signs that United were starting to find their feet under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Pogba missed an 11-game unbeaten run due to injury, but will be fit once the campaign resumes on June 17.
He is – despite the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January – United’s most talented player. When Pogba returns, he should be embraced.