Jose Mourinho’s final big call as Manchester United manager was to leave Paul Pogba on the bench at Anfield two days before he was sacked in December 2018.
Their relationship had reached breaking point and so too had Mourinho’s reign at United.
The Portuguese manager will come up against the player he once labelled a ‘virus’ when United travel to Tottenham on Friday night.
Pogba is likely to be on the bench again after a six-month lay-off, but this time it will be with a clean slate under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and yet another chance to show he has a future at United.
Asked if he will finally see the best of the erratic Frenchman, Solskjaer said: ‘Yes, I really hope and believe so.
‘Of course, Paul has had a difficult season with loads of injuries but I can see his mentality and focus now that he is fit, training and available. He is ready to play again and to prove (himself).
‘He has always had quality, Paul. He is one of the best midfielders in the world, so hopefully we can get that going as soon as possible.’
Pogba missed United’s 2-1 win over Mourinho’s side at Old Trafford in December with a foot injury. The plan to start him on the bench seems sensible considering his last comeback consisted of just two appearances as a substitute, before a recurrence of the problem forced him to have surgery. He has not played since Boxing Day.
‘I want the same from Paul as from all the others,’ added Solskjaer. ‘We expect him to gradually improve as he gets more and more game time.
‘I don’t know if it will be 45 minutes this time, or 60. So, gradually, over these next few months, we can work him up back to his best. Paul has had a very good career. He is a World Cup winner and we want to have that leadership on the pitch as well.’
United were on an 11-game unbeaten run before this fixture was postponed when lockdown began in March. Solskjaer insisted at the time that a ‘lot needed to be changed’ when he replaced Mourinho, and the Norwegian was equally adamant.
‘The team and the squad needed transition, it needed change and we have made that change, that cultural shift we believe in,’ he said.
‘I’ve not lost a second of sleep, because I do what I believe in. If that’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough, but I have always believed in what we do as coaching staff. We have a vision and a plan we want to put into place. Let’s see now. These two months will be valuable for us.’
With Pogba and Marcus Rashford recovering from injury to play alongside new star man Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer hopes United can finish the campaign where they left off to put down a marker for next season.
‘I’m very happy with the squad and, if we go into next season with a short pre-season with the same attitude and desire that they’ve shown now, I’m sure we can move up the table,’ he said.
The United boss also gave his backing to the Black Lives Matter movement. He said: ‘Players and Premier League teams, we all make a stand and say, “Enough is enough”. We all support the actions.’