It’s the transfer story which has dragged on for weeks — if not months.
So will Manchester United and Paul Pogba, who plays for Italian club Juventus, ever get it together?
Every year there’s a European summer transfer saga, whether it be David de Gea and Real Madrid, Raheem Sterling to Manchester City or Robin van Persie’s move from Arsenal to Manchester United.
This time around it’s Pogba’s turn and his supposed $120 million return to United — the club he left back in 2012 for a paltry $1million.
If the France international does move for that kind of transfer fee — neither United nor Juventus responded to CNN’s request for comment — it will make Pogba the most expensive footballer of all time.
So how does a club go from losing a player for next to nothing to breaking the world record and re-signing him? And just what is taking so long?
What’s the deal?
Amid the fevered daily newspaper and website updates on his potential return to England, Pogba has been chilling out playing basketball or cooling off in the swimming pool. And every now and again, he and his agent Mino Raiola have taken to social media to offer hints on a potential transfer.
“There is no deal done regarding Paul Pogba, lots of bla bla bla,” Raiola wrote on Twitter this month. Pogba then posted a picture of himself and Raiola relaxing in a swimming pool together as the hype continued to swirl around social media
“The height of speculation raises expectations from your own supporters and has the opposite impact on the other club,” former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry told CNN. “It puts you under pressure and might force you to pay a bit more than you were hoping.
“Transfers can be very stressful for all concerned, not least for the player. Too much of it is played out in public.
“It’s much better to get the deal done and then announce it, but very often the agent, or several agents involved, will put the stories out there either to push transaction along or to encourage other clubs along to make a bid.”
Parry recalls times where he was contacted by agents claiming their client was interested in moving to Liverpool, encouraging the English club to make a bid — only for the player to use that bid as leverage to secure a new contract with his employers just days later.
He also cited one particular case in which fan pressure prevented a player being sold to Liverpool, with the selling club’s president alleged to have “disappeared” as negotiations reached a conclusion — leaving the player sat on a private jet on the runway after a verbal deal had been agreed.
“If you’re the selling club, you have fan pressure from those who don’t want you to sell players and don’t want you to show weakness by selling,” Parry said. “That can lead to clubs behaving irrationally — it isn’t a rational market, there’s a lot of emotion.
“With Pogba, the fact he was at United first is completely irrelevant — if he’s going to be a final piece of the jigsaw, then he’s worth having. It’s about how much one club is prepared to pay, it’s about looking into the whites of their eyes and see if they blink first.”
Fight for Pogba
As ever, with world-class players like Pogba, there’s also likely to be more than one team in for the player.
At the age of 23, he has already won four Italian league titles with Juventus, reached the Champions League final and helped France reach the final of Euro 2016.
After leaving France as a teenager to join United, he grew frustrated at the lack of opportunities at Old Trafford and moved to Turin in 2012.
While Pogba has been extensively linked with a move to United, Real Madrid has also been touted as a potential suitor, with coach Zinedine Zidane praising the player.
“You’ve got to remember that there are two concurrent negotiations going on at once, ” Jake Cohen, a sports lawyer at Mills & Reeve, told CNN, as he talked about how football transfers work in general.
“You have the buying club discussing a deal with the selling club and then also with the player.
“It’s not just about the transfer fee but there can be add-ons, a sell-on clause, performance-based bonuses. Then you have to agree how the transfer will be paid.
“The higher the fee, the more protracted the stakes.”
Those stakes are usually discussed by the club’s chief executive and representatives of the player.
A number of agents have made a fortune out of striking deals — Jorge Mendes who represents Cristiano Ronaldo, is acknowledged as the world leader.
Mendes is reportedly worth $95.6 million according to Forbes and handles contracts worth $956.4 million, while it estimates Raiola is worth $28.6 million and deals with contracts valued at $285.7 million.
British media has reported that Raiola, a former restaurant waiter, could earn $26 million out of a deal for Pogba.
Not bad for a man who has already presided over deals for two of his other clients, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with Manchester United during the off-season.
“If a broker or intermediary is putting the player first there shouldn’t be too much of a problem in completing a deal,” British agent Sky Andrew told CNN.
“You negotiate the player’s terms, make sure he’s happy and then after that you can negotiate your fees. There should be a stronger negotiation on what’s right for the player rather than agent fees — they’re secondary to the player’s needs.
“But an agent should be remunerated. There’s a big difference between someone who is a middleman who doesn’t care about either side and the guy who has been with the player for five or six years and got him the big move. “
Agents have attracted negative headlines in the past with criticism leveled at the amount of money clubs often spend on their services.
Between October 1, 2015 to February 1, 2016 United paid out £10,023,318 ($13,203,186) in fees to agents and intermediaries according to figures provided by the English Football Association.
In total, the 20 Premier League clubs spent £46,582,843 ($61,367,204) during that same period.
“It’s very easy to blame the agent,” Andrew added. “Agent does a good job for his player,’ is not going to be a good story in the paper. I’ve had players for five or six years whose careers have not gone the way they might have wanted.
“Agents are an easy target, some are seen as scapegoat. The concern for me is when you see an agent being overpaid in a deal is where’s that money going?”
Big transfers can get confusing. Just who do you believe? Pick up a newspaper or click on a website and United’s deal for Pogba ranges from “done and dusted” to the player somehow on his way to Real.
It appears there is an insatiable desire to read transfer stories and gossip — and often deals are played out in public as leaks become common place. Patience is often is short supply — but behind the scenes, it’s often needed.
“Doing these deals discreetly is becoming more and more difficult,” Parry said. “These things can’t always be done instantly, they do become complex, long and drawn out.
“You always get a bizarre ritual of haggling over how many flights they get home, which is rather strange considering the overall financial package they get.
“The other thing which always surprised me, one of the obstacles which would come up, would be sell-on percentages and the lengths people would go to, to avoid paying them.
“If you enter into a deal with good faith, why not just honor it? Some clubs seem to be incredibly reluctant to.”
On Thursday there were reports that Pogba’s move to United is all but done, though Spanish newspapers suggested Real is still harboring hope of luring the player to Madrid.
But until the signature is on the contract and the traditional #Welcome tweet is published — anything can happen.