“I’m gonna make the players enjoy playing football, create an environment that they want to come into every single day. That’s key for me now,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said last year, reflecting on his man-management methods.
Considering the circumstances in which the Norwegian inherited a fractured side from his predecessor Jose Mourinho, Manchester United’s progress since his appointment has been continuous and impressive – Solskjaer just needs a trophy.
It’s clear United, who sit second in the Premier League and look set to reach the Europa League final, have made positive strides on the pitch under Solskjaer’s watchful eye, but it’s also intriguing to examine the dramatic culture shift in the dressing room.
Only recently, Luke Shaw credited his outstanding renaissance this season to working under Solskjaer while Paul Pogba also revelled in comparing Mourinho to the current United boss and needless to say it was the latter that emerged smelling of roses.
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Mourinho failed to get the best out of Shaw and Pogba across his tenure at Old Trafford, and it’s a testament to Solskaer’s man-management skills that he’s been capable of forging meaningful relationships with players to coax them back into form.
“Paul Pogba – he’s an unbelievable leader, both on the pitch and off the pitch. And he steps up, with his world-class qualities as a player, but also as a leader. I spent a lot of time with Paul because I had him in the reserves as well,” Solskjaer added.
“We knew each other, and it was easy to just rekindle that relationship really.”
Of course, Solskjaer had the benefit of that previous relationship with United’s record signing, but the pair rediscovering common ground upon his permanent appointment as manager was never guaranteed.
The MEN has revealed that Pogba, who is now approaching the final year of his contract, is relaxed about his future and prepared to stay with United for at least another year if a summer transfer fails to materialise.
If United are to mount a serious title challenge next term, it seems vital Pogba doesn’t move away from the club.
While it’s perhaps a fair assessment to suggest Pogba has never consistently scaled the lofty heights at United that he regularly reached with Juventus, the World Cup winner has delivered some emphatic performances in recent months.
After scoring a towering header to make the game 5-2 against Roma on Thursday, Pogba embarked on a celebration routine before dancing and gesturing towards the United bench which was believed to be aimed towards Eric Bailly.
“Come on Paul. Let’s go,” Solskjaer shouted from the touch-line, urging Pogba to finish celebrating.
Tellingly, Solskjaer has previously explained he needs his players at United to be “humble enough to work hard” and he’s successfully using that philosophy to tease Pogba into rediscovering his best form, an area in which his predecessor fell short.
More importantly, though, that moment against Roma spoke volumes – despite Pogba extending United’s advantage to three goals, Solskjaer wanted more, perfectly encapsulating the United boss’ ruthless winning mentality.
Obviously, a player of Pogba’s calibre requires that approach, but the pair’s healthy relationship allows Solskjaer to encourage, demand and challenge the Frenchman while ensuring he remains honest.
Mourinho failed to do that, and Solskjaer really seems the perfect manager for Pogba.