Pogba steps up and delivers after Mourinho offers olive branch to unsettled star
A week that began with Paul Pogba agitating for a move to Barcelona ended with the Frenchman wearing the captain’s armband for Manchester United.
It was no coincidence that Jose Mourinho turned to the unsettled Frenchman in the absence of Antonio Valencia.
If United are to convince Pogba that his long-term future lies at Old Trafford and extract the kind of performances from him that he produced for France at the World Cup, he needs to know that he has a key role to play and the freedom to play it.
After learning that his agent Mino Raiola struck a deal with Barcelona and the 25-year-old midfielder informed United chief Ed Woodward of his desire to go, United know they have a battle on their hands to win him over.
The United boss denied he was making a statement by handing Pogba the armband. ‘No,’ said Mourinho. ‘Last season he was captain a few times. The captain is Valencia. He is not here and Paul is one of options.
‘He is good example today of making himself available to help the team.’
Still, for all his attributes Valencia is not what you would describe as an inspirational leader. He was also singled out by Mourinho this summer for returning for pre-season out of shape before picking up a calf injury in California.
Nothing is set in stone and there is no reason Pogba cannot be handed the job on a permanent basis if he responds like he did here from the moment he converted a decisive early penalty.
His performance was the highlight of a good night for United.
At times this summer it has appeared as though the club were on the point of implosion. Mourinho has been the doom-monger in chief as an early start to the season approached without the majority of his top players available, and the transfer window swung shut without the new signings he wanted.
But, at last, he had most of his big names back here. Besides Pogba, on the bench were Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial, Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini. Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo and Valencia are due back from injury. New £52million signing Fred impressed on his official debut.
For now, though, they are off to a winning start and Pogba was the man to deliver it. Things are looking up.