AS takes a look at the figures who will have a crucial role to play in Real Madrid's planned summer signing of Manchester United's Paul Pogba.
The summer transfer window does not open for another two months, but Real Madrid's close-season move for Manchester United and France midfielder Paul Pogba is already very much in the works - albeit it remains at an embryonic stage.
Here is the lowdown on the figures who have a key role to play in making Pogba's arrival at the Bernabéu a reality:
Zinedine Zidane's return to Madrid has been a major factor in Pogba considering a summer switch. Zidane is an idol for a whole generation of French footballers and Pogba - who was six when he won the World Cup in 1998 - is no exception. It was 'Zizou' who called the midfielder in 2016, when Madrid initially targeted him before deciding that he would be too expensive, and it was the re-appointed coach who this year got in touch once more to gauge his interest in joining Los Blancos. Zidane has done his bit; from here on in, his will largely be a watching brief.
With a client list that also includes Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mario Balotelli and Gianluigi Donnarumma, Pogba's representative, Mino Raiola, is one of football's most prominent agents and will have a major part to play in the deal. Pogba has complete trust in him. However, Raiola's relationship with Florentino Pérez is not quite so good, in part because of the Madrid president's reluctance to dig deep to make his client's dream move happen two years ago. Raiola does get on well with the United hierarchy, though, despite his commission leaving them 40m euros lighter of pocket when Pogba rejoined the club from Juventus.
Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is the man who the Glazers, United's owners, have entrusted with the running of the Premier League giants. Madrid's recent experiences of Woodward are not altogether positive, having dealt with him for the failed 2015 signing of goalkeeper David de Gea, which was taken so far down to the wire that overdue paperwork saw the move fall through. In the aftermath of the debacle, Pérez's assertion that United's chiefs "don't have much experience" in major transfer dealings did not go down with Woodward at all. A figure whose professional background is largely in the financial sector, the 47-year-old oversaw the Glazers' purchase of United, and it is with him that Madrid will have to negotiate.
José Ángel Sánchez
A hugely important figure in the management of Real Madrid as a club, director general José Ángel Sánchez has been the brains behind ensuring the LaLiga giants have combined on-pitch success with major strides forward off it. It was Sánchez who modernised Madrid's marketing strategy, who provided the club with the structure of a multinational, and who signed Los Blancos' first major contracts with Adidas. Since 2000, his influence has steadily grown at Madrid, to the point where he tends to be tasked with negotiating the club's transfers, and it is he who is in charge of the 13-time European champions' bid to land Pogba.
It is down to Pérez to say how far Madrid are prepared to go to sign Pogba, who, it has already emerged, United won't countenance selling for anything under 150m euros. The player's deal at Old Trafford is due to expire in 2021, but United have the power to unilaterally extend that agreement by a year, leaving them under no contractual pressure to sell, and able to hold out for a high fee. That Zidane has expressly asked for Pogba only serves to increase their leverage. In 2016, Pérez refused to be bullied; now, having sent out an SOS to Zidane after a season to forget, he knows he'll have to put his hand in his pocket to keep the coach happy. At the same time, though, Madrid's 575m-euro stadium redevelopment means they can't afford to push the boat out too far, unless they do well from player sales.
When it comes to playing personnel, Gareth Bale is Madrid's chief bargaining chip, not least because Los Merengues are dealing with a Premier League club. After all, Bale arrived at the Bernabéu fresh from claiming both the PFA Players' Player of the Year and Football Writers' Player of the Year awards, and retains a stellar reputation back in Britain. For Madrid, a part-exchange deal involving the Welshman would be the ideal outcome. Pogba would also occupy Bale's place on the wage bill, with the World Cup winner likely to pick up more or less the salary that the forward is on at the Bernabéu now: around 12 million euros after tax.
The American billionaires took control of Manchester United in 2005, when their purchase of the 28.7% stake belonging to John Magnier and J.P. McManus saw them become the 20-time English champions' major shareholders. It is the Glazers who will have to give the green light to a deal with Real Madrid. There is speculation that they want to sell United, a move for which they'll need to ensure the club's accounts are in good shape. Bringing in a sizeable fee for Pogba would help.