Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says that Paul Pogba is channelling his extrovert personality in the right way after toning down his off-field behaviour, ahead of his side’s huge match with title-chasing Liverpool on Sunday.
Pogba has rediscovered his form since Solskjaer took charge at as United’s interim manager in December following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
Having endured a difficult first half the season, the France star has scored nine goals and provided six assists in his last 12 club appearances as United have shot into fourth with Premier League eight wins in nine and reached the FA Cup quarter-finals after convincingly beating Chelsea earlier this month.
“He is a leader in training, he is a leader in the dressing room,” Solskjaer said ahead of Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford.
“Players are allowed to be themselves. He spends a lot of energy being a leader on and off the pitch.”
The midfielder has become as well-known for his colourful hairstyles and his social media posts as for his football skills during his time at Old Trafford.
“If you want the nice car, different haircut, it is not a problem. I can’t do anything about my grey hair, but it is not a problem that you have whatever haircut you want,” said Solskjaer.
“It has never been a problem with Paul. I remember when he was 16, he wanted to feel good. If you feel good, you will play well.”
Pogba’s social media use was a problem for Mourinho, who was reported to be unhappy that the midfielder broke United rules by filming an Instagram video in the training ground changing rooms to wish Jesse Lingard a happy birthday in December.
– Distractions –
That was shortly before the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool that cost the former Chelsea and Real Madrid manager his job.
Solskjaer believes it is important that players remain focused on their job, and do not have too many off-field distractions –- making what seemed to be a passing reference to the appearance of Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge at the Brit Awards at London’s O2 Arena on Wednesday.
“Paul has always been a larger-than-life character. But you don’t want to give anyone an excuse really, so of course, you don’t go to the Brit awards this week,” he said.
“We know leading up to the other game against Liverpool there were stories about players not being focused.
“It is not about that. We know they are focused, we know they are doing their best but he does help himself by toning it down a bit … Knowing him, he wants to win, he wants to be the best.”
Solskjaer is also keen to ensure victory over Liverpool in the Premier League on Sunday, not least to silence the many fans in his native Norway who support Jurgen Klopp’s team, who are separated from leaders Manchester City by goal difference.
“There are loads of Liverpool fans back home and it has been like: every year is going to be their year. Then it gets to October and it’s: ‘Ok, next year’,” he said.
“But now they are in the race so for them it is going to be an exciting finish to the league now they are in it.
“That is none of our concern. We just have to concentrate on ourselves.
“We are not thinking about doing anyone any favours, but I would think the whole of Manchester will be supporting us on Sunday!”