Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Says Paul Pogba 'Loves Playing' for Manchester United

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2018

CARDIFF, WALES - DECEMBER 22:  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Interim Manager of Manchester United celebrates with Fred and Paul Pogba after the Premier League match between Cardiff City and Manchester United at Cardiff City Stadium on December 22, 2018 in Cardiff, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Paul Pogba "loves playing" for Manchester United, according to caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who also said the Frenchman "knows what it means" to represent the Red Devils.

Solskjaer spoke after Pogba scored twice to help United beat Huddersfield Town 3-1 in the Premier League at Old Trafford on Boxing Day. It was United's second straight win on Solskjaer's watch after Pogba inspired the Reds to a 5-1 win over Cardiff City in the first match after Jose Mourinho was sacked.

Pogba and Mourinho were often viewed as being at odds, but Solskjaer has seen a player up for United's cause, per ESPN FC's Rob Dawson: "That's the Paul I know and I have known since he was in the reserves and youth team. He's always been a happy boy, big smile on his face, and when you score two you're happy, and he should be."

Pogba's turnaround on Solskjaer's watch has been both swift and impressive. The World Cup-winning midfielder has gone from supposed malcontent dropped by Mourinho to United's chief creative source:

SPORF @Sporf

🇫🇷 @PaulPogba under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: 🔴 2 Games ⚽️ 2 Goals 🎯 2 Assists 🥅 8 Shots 💥 5 On Target 🍾 2 MOTM 🤫 Silencing his critics. https://t.co/G72wnLVUNV

Those are the kind of numbers United expect as a matter of routine for a player who cost a then-world record £89 million back in 2016. Pogba hasn't always delivered, though, particularly amid reports he and the man who signed him didn't get along.

There have also been concerns about the player's temperament, particularly involving the timing of some of his social media activity in the wake of Mourinho's dismissal.

The contrast between what Pogba has done on the pitch recently and what he was producing under Mourinho only underlines how far things had fallen under Solskjaer's ill-fated predecessor:

Eurosport UK @Eurosport_UK

Paul Pogba in 2⃣ games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer 2 goals 2 assists Paul Pogba in his last 1⃣2⃣ games under Jose Mourinho 1 goal 3 assists #pogback https://t.co/64dLdCXiY4

Things have turned around because Solskjaer has made installing greater attacking impetus his priority. He's encouraged more width by having full-backs play higher up the pitch, while moving Pogba farther forward has also been key.

The mercurial 25-year-old played just off striker Marcus Rashford against the Terriers. Nemanja Matic and disappointing summer import Fred provided a solid base behind to afford Pogba greater freedom to roam the final third.

He's also getting more license to drift into multiple positions between the midfield and forward lines. Pogba is particularly fond of working the inside left channel.

The former Juventus star can make more of those runs because strikers Rashford and Anthony Martial, along with attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, are also adept at rotating in attacking areas.

Solskjaer is giving Pogba more freedom in forward areas.
Solskjaer is giving Pogba more freedom in forward areas.Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Such flexibility in positioning was rarely allowed within Mourinho's rigid tactical plans. Solskjaer's tweaks are unlocking the improvisation and daring of a player always defined more by his flair than by discipline.

More support up top and more players on his wavelength about how the game should be played are letting Pogba show the talent often buried during Mourinho's tenure.

Some may complain the Red Devils are pandering to their most expensive and marketable asset. Yet it's clever and thoughtful management on Solskjaer's part to compromise in order to get more from his best player.