IT WAS in Australia last month that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set about working on Paul Pogba.
The Manchester United boss did not care that Romelu Lukaku wanted out. He has not much time for Alexis Sanchez either.
But when it came to Pogba he was determined to convince him that the new challenge he sought was still there at Old Trafford.
Solskjaer spoke to the Frenchman in Perth during pre-season and told him there was a great opportunity at United.
He outlined just what his vision was for the club, an exciting, young, vibrant team that would lift the place again.
Solskjaer made it clear to the 26-year-old that he was central to that and could lead them forward.
And the sense of worth and responsibility lifted a player who performed in pre-season like someone who wanted to stay and not go.
Solskjaer made it clear time and time again in front of the media that Pogba was a “top, top lad” and no trouble whatsoever.
It has been a masterful piece of man management.
He has got the player from a place at the start of the summer where he wanted out, to a performance at the start of the season which had World Cup winner stamped all over it.
If he can get his head down this season and be a dominant force in midfield then he is United’s best player.
Gary Neville on Paul Pogba
On Sunday, his through ball for Marcus Rashford’s second goal, and storming run that lead to Daniel James debut finish, showed everything that Pogba can be for United.
Sky pundit and United great Gary Neville put it best in assessing where Pogba is at following the 4-0 destruction of Chelsea.
Neville said: “There is always speculation around Pogba and I don’t think it will go away.
“But if he can get his head down this season and be a dominant force in midfield then he is United’s best player.
“There is no doubt about it. He wants to be in a winning team but can he make Manchester United a winning team?”
The reason Pogba sought a new challenge at Real Madrid was because he could not see United becoming a winning team. He did not think he had the players and had doubts over the manager.
But his thinking is changing.
Contrast that to a year ago, when previous manager Jose Mourinho stoked the embers by questioning why Pogba cannot play for United like he did in winning the World Cup for France.
SET THE TONE
That set the tone for months of conflict, to the point where Pogba was not even in the team.
He was miserable — and when he is miserable, the whole camp seems to be too.
He provides much of the fun and energy behind the scenes and on the training ground.
Most of the squad love him and want to be out there on the pitch with him.
Probably the only reason he has not been made permanent captain is because it would have sent out the wrong message so soon after he said he wanted out.
After the first game at Old Trafford last season, a 2-1 win over Leicester in which he scored a penalty, Pogba said: “There are things I cannot say, otherwise I will get fined.”
On Sunday he still left a question mark hanging but the tone was very positive.
The Frenchman said: “Obviously there have been things said but only time will tell. This question mark remains.
I call him The Beast.
Paul Pogba on Harry Maguire
“However, as I said, I am here in Manchester. I enjoy playing with my team-mates and I always want to win every game. I always give it everything.”
He was also effusive in his praise for new signing Harry Maguire, who was immense at the heart of the United back four.
Pogba said: “I call him The Beast. Honestly, as you saw, he was really impressive. He is a leader. He fits right in with us in training.
“We talked about controlling the defence well and he has a good understanding with Victor Lindelof. It was a very good match to start with from the whole team.”
Pogba now believes his role, that often seemed restricted under Mourinho, is more like how he wants it at United.
That is in a two with Scott McTominay in front of the back four, but with a licence to roam forward and dictate.
He said: “In terms of organisation, it is a bit more like how I play with the French national team.
“It does not bother me where I play, whether it is higher or lower, we adapt and enjoy.”
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Enjoy it he did, as did Old Trafford. Since Solskjaer took charge, Pogba has now been involved in 18 Premier League goals — ten goals and eight assists.
That is the joint highest in that period, alongside Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.
As he left the pitch at the end of last season, abuse came his way from the Stretford End.
On Sunday he gave his shirt to an adoring fan and was roared down the tunnel.
A new dawn? As Pogba himself said “time will tell” — but the early signs are good.