MANCHESTER – It used to be the case that players only left Manchester United when the club decided it was time for them to go.
David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam were among the United stars who were hurried through the exit once Sir Alex Ferguson decided enough was enough. Cristiano Ronaldo was a rare exception to the rule. Paul Pogba, too, when he went against Ferguson’s wishes to join Juventus in 2012.
Times have changed, however. Pogba still wants to leave — a scenario that seems increasingly likely next summer — but he is no longer alone. United do not have the pulling power of old. Just ask Erling Haaland.
Last summer, Romelu Lukaku effectively forced a move to Inter Milan after missing most of pre-season and then turning up to train with Anderlecht. And one look at the United team sheet at Molineux reminded you of more problems a little closer to home.
Star academy pupils, Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes, have picked up the club’s young player of the year award in two of the past three seasons. Yet both have so far rejected the offer of new contracts. They can leave for nothing in the summer and have been free to negotiate with foreign clubs since New Year’s Day amid interest from Juventus and Barcelona, respectively.