Paul Pogba’s opening touch as the world’s most expensive footballer came seconds into the contest. It was a duff pass and handed the ball straight to Southampton and they broke at pace.
Beforehand the Frenchman discussed how his feelings in the first moments of this second Manchester United coming would indicate how he would adapt to the Premier League.
Given the way Pogba responded to this poor start, unfazed appears the answer, as he went on to be pivotal whenever his side moved forward. Ander Herrera had said the 23-year-old is a total footballer, able to do everything and anything. After a classic dank wet Mancunian day became a sun-lightened evening Pogba provided evidence throughout.
In one moment he was ghosting into Southampton’s area to ping a shot at Fraser Forster, in another he was inside his own half, raking over a pass to Zlatan Ibrahimovic that turned the visitors.
Suddenly, this is a large United outfit and at 6ft 3in Pogba is one of the tallest, along with the 6ft 4in Marouane Fellaini. If a Pogba-Fellaini midfield axis may not be the dream pairing of many United fans, the thinking here is obvious. It brings strength, muscle, and an aerial dominance that Pogba, in particular, displayed.
He returned to Old Trafford calling the place home and having won four consecutive Serie A titles and two Coppa Italias and experienced losing the Champions League final with Juventus and the Euro 2016 final with France .
His mission now is to help drive United to a first crown in four seasons, and finally move the club on from the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
The moment of the opening period was Ibrahimovic’s thundering headed goal that gave Forster no chance. The Swede was aided by Pogba making a clever decoy run that pulled a defender towards him as the ball sailed at the United No9.
Pogba had dislodged Herrera from the XI that was victorious at Bournemouth last Sunday. Talking of his more withdrawn position under José Mourinho, the Spaniard said: “I have to do a different role in the team. I have spoken with the manager and we are agreed that I can be an important player and can help the team in that position. I can win a lot of balls back for the team. My instinct is to try to win the ball back for the team as quickly as possible.”
If he was unfortunate to say all this before being the first victim of Pogba’s arrival, Herrera’s view of operating with the Frenchman is: “As a midfielder I will feel very good if I have the chance to play with him.”
When Herrera will have the opportunity do so remains to be seen, as the United witnessed on this first of the Friday night matches teemed with zest and energy and came continually bouncing at Southampton.
Mourinho had asked for more noise from fans and he received it, though there is still a way to go until the stadium is a seething cauldron of noise. After the dog days of Louis van Gaal’s two-season tenure it certainly felt a happier more fun place, though, and there is no doubt the Dutchman would have struggled to convince Pogba to join his United project.
Mourinho’s CV and charisma did persuade Pogba he should sign. Given there is no Champions League football this season and the mind struggles to recall any player about to enter his peak years choosing United over Real Madrid, as Pogba did, then the transfer can be considered a real coup.
Now, he has to walk the talk. In those two biggest games of his career – the finals of the European Cup and Euro 2016 – Pogba failed to live up to the world-class billing. It helped the argument of those who believe the Frenchman to be overpriced and in this cash-soaked era of the domestic game poses the question of just how fine a footballer United’s £92.5m investment has acquired.
, Pogba offered enough to suggest the hype is justified. He may have been overshadowed by Ibrahimovic, whose second-half penalty confirmed six points from six for United, but this was an accomplished full debut that included two sweet second-half turns.When first at United there were seven substitute appearances in all competitions during the 2011-12 season. Now, at last, Pogba has his made his full debut in the famous red livery.
Before the kick-off Sir Bobby Charlton tweeted: “Few things are as magical as the first home match of the season at the Theatre of Dreams.”
The spell would have fell flat unless victory was achieved. It was, and in attractive fashion. Pogba played a telling part in the result; now, the challenge for him is to do the same week-in, week-out.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010