Man Utd’s true greatest transfer mistake coming to light ahead of Paul Pogba exit

Erik ten Hag's Man Utd in-tray

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It is no secret that Paul Pogba’s time at Manchester United wasn’t a great success. He has been blamed, the merry-go-round of managers has been blamed, and even his teammates have been blamed. But the real reason for Pogba’s underwhelming return to Old Trafford may well be that they signed the wrong midfielder in 2016.

With Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata out of contract this summer and Nemanja Matic expected to be sold, new Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag is logically looking at midfield transfer targets. West Ham’s Declan Rice has been mentioned, as has Monaco star Aurelien Tchouameni.

The Mirror also claims the former Ajax boss is considering a move for Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, a player that the club attempted to sign five years ago. The French midfielder instead opted to head to Stamford Bridge rather than Old Trafford, an unspoken but potentially significant checkpoint in United’s slow and steady downfall since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

Pogba, at that time, was an expensive but stylish option for manager Jose Mourinho. He was demonstrating the skillset of a top-quality playmaker at Juventus but came at an almighty cost, and Kante was the opposite. He was a midfielder that had all the defensive attributes needed to flourish, only ever truly focused on doing the hard yards.

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Kante came out and said that it was now-Tottenham boss Antonio Conte that convinced him that his best option was to leave Leicester for Chelsea. He said: “It was amazing to have Mourinho call me, even though I’d been warned before how he would appeal to me. I listened to his arguments about why I should move to United.

“But at that time I was hesitant between staying at Leicester or leaving for Chelsea. My discussions with them were already well underway. But when I spoke, I had a good feeling with Conte.” Whether United could have done more to persuade Kante to join them remains unknown, though just a few phone calls overall would presumably leave a lot to be desired regarding a top target.

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As a pairing, Kante and Pogba have worked wonders on the international stage. They balance one another out well and United fans will be gutted that, if Ten Hag can sign the Blues star to be his first marquee signing at The Theatre of Dreams, the club couldn’t convince Pogba to stay a short while longer as having his fellow Frenchman alongside him has also seen him to best effect.

Kante would certainly be a step in the right direction for United and would relieve attacking players, such as Bruno Fernandes, of a lot of their defensive duties. But given that the club had already shortlisted the 31-year-old as a target all those years ago, it will leave many pondering whether the club would need a revival if they committed to Kante rather than being willing to turn their attention, in turn to Pogba, so immediately.

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