Under caretaker manager and fan favorite (as a player) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United have won five on the trot with their most talented player starting to look like the player that was promised. With their toughest fixture under Ole’s guidance coming up on Sunday, is their honeymoon period in jeopardy?
The first few months this season have been tumultuous, at best, for Paul Pogba. Right from their opening fixture back in August, rumors swirled that the 25-year-old Frenchman had one foot out of the door. Things only got worse as Mourinho’s tenure was unexpectedly coming to an end, who had become his vintage self with his third season shenanigans. Whether it was complaining that he did not have the backing of the Board of Directors or that he was the end-all, be-all of the team during the preseason; things were doomed from the very beginning. The Portuguese manager could not even swallow his ego for a few seconds to congratulate who’d been part of a World Cup winning team over the playoffs.
Last season he brought back an old classic: isolating his star player. But in his world, there can only be one star on his team. Himself. Also, let’s not forget his style of play. Dismal, defensive football. Most teams would prefer to have the ball for most of the game to control its outcome. The Special One has a different viewpoint. Football is too random for his liking. The team that has the ball is more likely to commit a turnover. The player that commits a mistake – no matter how minute – is immediately subbed off and benched for the next couple of weeks. When things are going, he delivers titles. This has always been his mojo and it has evaded him in recent memory. But, when the club season does not go according to plan, United are sitting in sixth placing after their worst-ever start to a Premier League campaign. That is combined with the fact that the lost the dressing room for good – but did he ever really have it in the first place? The worst part about all this, club fighting to stay in the league felt that they had a good chance to come to Old Trafford and comfortably beat the Red Devils. And history has told us that he would be fired, and shown the door he was.
Three games into the Ole era and Paul Pogba was seen at his happiest with the United emblem on his chest while celebrating his second brace in three matches. Compare that to the last three fixture under Jose where he was an apathetic figure on the bench. United’s new manager (at least temporarily) has taken a radical new approach to football: let the players express themselves on the pitch. Who knew that letting go of the reins to allow a group of players play the style of football they enjoy would get the best out of them?
It has paid off. In four straight league win, Paul Pogba has had the best statistical month of his career having scored four times, chipped in three assists with an infinite number of smiles.
Solskjaer has decided to not have an adversarial relationship with the media. He is keeping a simple message and is saying all the right things. The baby-faced assassin does not have the body language of someone with his back to the wall. Ole is speaking as a free man with no qualms whatsoever. The fullbacks are bombing forward and are not constantly looking over their shoulder to trackback. Victor Lindelof finally looks like a player who is comfortable in his own skin. Romelu Lukaku is not squandering chances and it finding the back of the net with ease. But the cherry on the icing is that Paul Pogba has never looked happier on the football pitch. He is playing like an athlete worthy of being one of the most expensive players in world football and one of the best in his positions. No longer hiding under the coat he has on while slumping on the bench, he is having a renaissance. Away at Newcastle, he set up the winning goal, walked off a hard challenge from Jonjo Shelvey and then took the mickey out of him on twitter. Sure Claude Makelele found it disrespectful, but who the hell cares? Pogba is finally looking comfortable as a United player.
A few things thing still hovers over this team and those who talk about United: Why did the players – especially Paul Pogba – not show the same effort under Mourinho? Did the locker-room purposefully player-tank in order to get rid of the most expendable member of the club? Did the intentionally let down their manager? Is professionalism not a thing in team sports anymore?
This is the unfortunate side of football that we sometimes neglect. Sometimes if your boss is publically berating new and blaming everyone but himself, it must be hard to motivate oneself on a daily basis to give their all. The idea of playing for the fans, teammates and the emblem they don on their jerseys is a romantic theory. In reality, getting dressed out in front of the world every day will incentive players to give their bare minimum and checkout right after. Getting the most out of your subordinates is the main job of the man in charge. Why else would he have a job then?
Change as clearly occurred with momentum finally backing the red half of Manchester with United only six points behind Chelsea for the last Champions League spot. A good showing in Europe and the FA Cup along with a fourth play finish might just be good enough for Ed Woodward to sign the United legend to a long-term deal. This despite all the debate regarding Mauricio Pochettino as the next Gaffer of Manchester United. The 2-0 3rd round FA Cup win against Reading made it five consecutive wins for Ole. Only the great Sir Mat Busby has achieved this at the club as a new manager. Ole’s run, albeit against mediocre teams, cannot be dismissed.
The long needed consistency suggests a top-four finish with the second half of the season underway though it does not guarantee this under any circumstances. Only on Sunday will they face another Top-Six team under Ole and this will be their first real test to see if their run of form is a trend or a dead end. Even against the likes of Bournemouth and Newcastle United were shaky defensively – a common theme of the 2018-19 season. Poch’s Tottenham is also on a mini-run of their own and currently sit in second place. They are known for exploiting unorganized defenses and are scoring goals for fun in the league. United are the clear underdogs but with an in-form Paul Pogba, a true fight will be taken to the Spurs.
Man, does it feel good to have a happy Paul Pogba.