Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho pledged to shape his team around Paul Pogba after the France midfielder made a successful Old Trafford return in a 2-0 win over Southampton.
Pogba played the whole game as Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s brace sank Southampton on Friday, a week after returning to United from Juventus in a world-record 89 million pound (105 million euros, $116 million) transfer.
Despite playing in a midfield holding role, Pogba got forward well, making a total of four attempts at goal, and Mourinho said that he was determined to give the 23-year-old the freedom to play his natural game.
Asked what instructions he had given Pogba, Mourinho replied simply: “Play.”
He added: “I don’t know which position he played. For a player to play with the freedom he has, we have to build a certain organisation around him. He has to play with freedom.
“The last 10 minutes, 2-0, now (you need) more discipline, more tactical organisation, but this is the kind of guy that has to play free.”
Pogba’s second debut, four years on from his last United appearance, got off to an embarrassing start when he produced an air-kick in midfield, but Mourinho was delighted by the way he regained his composure.
“I think he was fantastic. His first action was bad. He loses an easy ball and gives a counter-attack and a first free-kick to the opponent,” Mourinho said.
“(But) you can see even more the ego, the personality. He’s so comfortable in the skin of a star, so confident, the way he plays.
“For 10 days’ work, first match of the season, not even 10 minutes of a friendly, I think he played phenomenal.”
Mourinho also reserved words of praise for Pogba’s midfield partner Marouane Fellaini.
Fellaini became a figure of derision under Mourinho’s predecessors David Moyes and Louis van Gaal, but the United manager said that he had worked hard to build up the Belgium international’s confidence.
– Puel regrets –
“Maybe a simple phone call can make a difference,” said the Portuguese, whose side provisionally went three points clear at the Premier League summit.
“A player that was feeling he was not loved. A player that when the market opened, everybody was saying he was leaving and was not a player for me.
“Maybe a simple phone call the day after my presentation as Man United manager changed a lot because I told him: ‘Forget everything you read. With me, you don’t leave, for sure.’
“Then I think the more organised the team play, the easier for the players to feel confident. He’s playing well, with (Michael) Carrick, with (Ander) Herrera, with Paul.
“I think he’s full of confidence, but I have so many good players. I arrived in the dressing room after the match and I was happy, and I became sad.
“All the other guys were there in their nice Paul Smith suits — Carrick, Memphis (Depay), (Phil) Jones — that I don’t select.”
Ibrahimovic opened the scoring with a towering header from Wayne Rooney’s cross in the 36th minute and made it 2-0 from the penalty spot early in the second half after Jordy Clasie tripped Luke Shaw.
The Swedish striker, who was making his home debut, has now scored four times in three United appearances.
Southampton created a few opportunities prior to falling behind, with Shane Long threatening twice, and manager Claude Puel lamented his side’s failure to take their chances.
“We finish this game with a lot of regrets because we had many situations,” said the Frenchman.
Puel has introduced a new system featuring a diamond midfield, but he downplayed the significance of the tactical change.
“The system is not the most important thing. The most important thing for us is to play football,” he said.
“When you play good football, we can make good opportunities. It’s important to play and to believe in our potential. This is the most important thing.”