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Ole's big dilemma: Can Pogba be more than Man Utd's fair weather friend?

COMMENT: So in the good times, you'll know he's there. When the team's winning. When the players are smiling. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can be confident Paul Pogba will be committed...

On the eve of Saturday's rout of Bournemouth it broke: Pogba was happy. Indeed, those close to the midfielder were claiming he'd "never been happier" and was now planning to drop all plans of forcing a summer move away. News that on the surface at least, should be viewed as another triumph of Solskjaer's management.

But what about the inevitable slump? What about the next time the team needs to dig itself out of a hole? Will Manchester United's No6 then be there for the manager? That has to be the question preying on Solskjaer's mind. Is there more to Pogba's character than being this fair weather friend?

He was bright on Saturday. Not outstanding. Not even influential. But Pogba turned in a decent shift as part of a United team that thumped Bournemouth 5-2 on Saturday. The headlines were for others. A brace for teenager Mason Greenwood. Another goal and impactful performance from Bruno Fernandes. A hard-working, creative and goalscoring display from Marcus Rashford. Solskjaer would later describe the triumph as "exciting" and one the "Stretford End would've enjoyed" if they'd been allowed to attend.

And watching on, you can understand Solskjaer's sentiment. Seeing Greenwood, Rashford, Fernandes and Anthony Martial rotate through the attacking positions. All four either driving through the centre - or buzzing away on a flank. It is exciting to watch. And you add a Pogba collecting from deep. Driving the team forward. Maintaining - even winning - possession when needed. It's a heady mix.

And against Bournemouth, it's couldn't have rolled out better. But it was Bournemouth. The 2020 version. Not the one that has rattled United at Dean Court in past seasons. But the team we saw on Saturday. The body language of the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and particularly Adam Smith crystalising just how desperate the players believe their situation is.

But you can only beat what's in front of you. And as mentioned, Pogba did make a worthy contribution. But momentum is with this United team. It's now 16 games unbeaten. The five goals on Saturday a first since Solskjaer's debut against Cardiff City dating back to December 2018. Significantly, with both Rashford and Martial now reaching the 20 goal mark, United have now scored more times than Liverpool this season.

So United are flying. Just a week ago Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, declared them the best team they'd faced this season. But the foundations for this run. For this turnaround. They were all laid sans Pogba. Indeed, the rebuilding of Solskjaer, his staff - and many senior players - has been achieved almost in spite of Pogba. The building blocks all being put in place as he skipped around the world doing his ankle rehab, while Mino Raiola, his agent, taunted, mocked and denigrated both the work and planning of Solskjaer, along with Ed Woodward, the club's vice-chairman.

From claiming a "lack of identity" to Solskjaer's game, to declaring "Maradona and Pele" would be "ruined" at today's United, to touting his client to Real Madrid and former club Juventus, Raiola has been doing this all season. And most significantly, without any public push back from Pogba. Many of the sound bites offered by Raiola also being done with the Frenchman out of the country.

That's the track record. And that's what Solskjaer needs to settle with himself when the opportunity arrives to shift Pogba on. Can he be counted on when the chips are down?

Indeed, you can go further. Inside the dressing room. As we've long mentioned in this column. Winning fixes everything. It masks all. But there is some hints of resentment amongst the playing staff. This unbeaten run. This surge into top four contention. It was no fluke. And there's been suffering. Soul searching. All experienced while Pogba was not only on the other side of the world - but his proxy was running down everything they were trying - with the manager - to put together.

And while the answer is out of their hands, there's many within the group asking whether Pogba is a man they can turn to in a crisis. One to be relied upon. That he's now intimating through media channels a willingness to stay - when all the dirty work has been done - hasn't impressed everyone.

But they'll get on with. That's the lot of a pro footballer. They'll make do - though wary of what'll happen when that inevitable form slump returns.

And it's the same question that now confronts Solskjaer. Only the difference being, he has the power to do something about it. At the moment, he's seeing Pogba at his best, when the team is at it's best.

The question for the manager is: can he trust his No6 - and those around him - to behave the same when things aren't falling their way...?

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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