SHANGHAI • French midfielder Paul Pogba is a target for Manchester United, their manager Jose Mourinho all but confirmed to the BBC in an interview given in China yesterday. But, soon after, the player's agent Mino Raiola refused to confirm if the France international had asked to leave Juventus.
"You have smoke, you have fire," said Mourinho, before his team were whipped 4-1 by Borussia Dortmund in the opening match of the friendly International Champions Cup in Shanghai. "I am not going to try to make you naive and believe that we are not trying for one player."
The Portuguese handler made it clear that it would be pointless to pull the wool over their eyes and say he and United were not courting the 23-year-old - who could cost the English club a world record £100 million (S$177 million) just four years after he left them for a mere £800,000.
However, Raiola - who could be due up to £18.4 million should the deal go through - insisted that he is not concerned with reports that Pogba could join United for a world-record transfer fee.
"I don't care about record-breaking transfers," he told Corriere dello Sport. "The newspapers say that Pogba could break the record but I have already broken records with (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic and (Pavel) Nedved. I want what's best for my players and so that also includes Pogba.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
You have smoke, you have fire. I am not going to try to make you naive and believe that we are not trying for one player.
JOSE MOURINHO, Manchester United manager, drawing the connection to Pogba.
"Has Pogba asked to leave Juventus? I won't answer anyone and I don't talk about my business. Certain things I only discuss with my clients and they know how things really stand."
In Melbourne, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said of Pogba: "Right now he's still a Juventus player. We don't know what will happen in the course of next week, but we're confident."
On Thursday, Mourinho insisted that he has other choices, if the Pogba deal falls through, for his final major transfer of the close season.
But it is understood that United remain confident of completing the deal, having submitted an offer of £92 million on Wednesday, despite reports in Spain yesterday which suggested Real Madrid could be preparing an offer.
On the field, Mourinho suffered an embarrassing first defeat as United manager as his team melted in the heat of Shanghai.
An under-strength and error-prone United were three goals down inside an hour. Gonzalo Castro scored twice, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang also found the net before the break.
Mourinho made changes at - and after - the interval but the substitutions made little difference.
Ousmane Dembele produced the moment of the match to score, before Henrikh Mkhitaryan pulled one back against the club he left for Old Trafford in a £26.3 million deal last month.
"I think in pre-season the team that wins is always the team that is in an advanced stage of the preparation," he told MUTV.
"Always. Never the best team, always the team that is in advance. It was too obvious."
It is hard to know what Mourinho learnt from a match played in 38 deg C on a dry pitch in front of a less than capacity crowd, other than the fact that his fringe players need to raise their game.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE