Once the Premier League transfer window shuts, Madrid will be unlikely to get Paul Pogba, who says it "could be time to have a new challenge".
Manchester United's Paul Pogba took a crucial step towards a summer Real Madrid switch during a promotional appearance in Japan on Sunday, making the most of a question about his aims for next season to send out a message put together by his agent, Mino Raiola, hours earlier.
Real Madrid now have public gesture from Pogba
"After this season and everything that happened, with my season being my best season, I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else," Pogba told reporters in Tokyo. Madrid now have what they wanted: a public come-and-get-me plea from the player.
With United currently refusing to negotiate the sale of the 26-year-old, Raiola has sought to ramp up the pressure on the Red Devils, who feel in no hurry to do business over the man they re-signed from Juventus for a then-world-record 105m euros in 2016 - after all, Pogba's contract does not expire until 2021, and can be unilaterally extended by the Premier League club.
A source close to Pogba has told AS that his mind is made up: he wants to play for Zinedine Zidane at Madrid next term. It was Los Blancos' coach who put in the initial groundwork in the mooted deal, working to convince his fellow Frenchman of the merits of the move. "It won't be easy to get it over the line, though," the same source said. "It's one of those transfers that will go on for much of the summer."
After rounding off his Asian tour, Pogba is to head off on holiday to the west coast of the United States, and - despite the pessimism of AS' source that the situation will reach a swift resolution - is hopeful of having his future sorted out before 1 July, when he is due back at United for pre-season training.
The deadline for getting the deal done is 8 August, when the transfer window shuts in the Premier League. LaLiga clubs will still have until 2 September to make new signings, but it seems unlikely that United will sell one of their best players at a point in the summer when they cannot replace him.
Juventus interest could drive Pogba price up...
It remains unclear exactly what price Madrid can conceivably get Pogba for, but current estimates suggest that they'll have to pay around 160m euros plus add-ons. With Juve interested in taking the World Cup winner back to Turin, though, an attempt by the Italians to sign the player ahead of Madrid poses the danger of dragging Los Merengues into a bidding war.
Two days ago, Sky Sport Italia revealed that Juve's sporting director, Fabio Paratici, had travelled to the UK to sit down with United chiefs - and had received the same response as Real Madrid are presently getting: Pogba isn't for sale at any price.
However, Madrid have a trump card: the player's firm desire to join them.