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Paul Pogba celebrates at full-time against Manchester City

How Pogba took the derby by the scruff of the neck

The cameraman with his handheld equipment stalked Paul Pogba at the final whistle of a scintillating Manchester derby win for United. The producers in the TV gantry wanted shots of the Man of the Match. Everybody's eyes were on the man of the moment.

The Reds midfielder had played the pivotal role in an enthralling, and at one stage, unimaginable comeback by the away team at the Etihad Stadium. With the lens trained on him, the Frenchman marched over to the United section of City’s HQ, following a significant tête-à-tête with Blues boss Pep Guardiola, and beat the club crest on his chest.

He mouthed something to the jubilant support and while I’m no lip reader, the message was clear:
“I’m one of you.”
The real statement from the 25-year-old, however, had come in those breathtaking 45 minutes when his prominent, inspirational actions helped to mastermind the overturning of City’s 2-0 interval lead and put the brake on those title celebrations.

Goals: City 2 United 3Video

If anyone was harbouring any doubts that the United Academy product could replicate for the Reds the kind of performances he’d produced on the biggest of stages for Juventus, then this was his answer. This was Paul Pogba in imperious form. Starting moves. Finishing moves. Somebody had to take the derby debacle by the scruff of the neck in that second half and Pogba did it. Not on his own, of course, but he was the main man.

You’d think you wouldn’t be able to miss Pogba with his striking hair colour, his tall frame and loping gait that eats up the ground, but City dangerously managed not to see him as he incisively made a beeline for the gaps in their rearguard. He was a typical ‘ghosting’ midfielder. All the opposition know you are on the pitch but somehow they can’t pick you out when you start that probing surge into the penalty box. Bryan Robson was superb at it. So was Paul Scholes. Opponents of those two Old Trafford legends knew all about the attributes that would ultimately hurt them but so often were left wondering how they didn’t spot that late dash into the danger zone. How did they manage to escape being shut down?

Pogba has that quality too. He was that man on Saturday and Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi at the heart of the Blues' defence just never saw it coming. Twice Pogba infiltrated their ranks with killer bursts and clinical finishing. His two goals in the space of 97 seconds turned the derby on its head and proved beyond all argument that the France international can be the dominant and match-winning figure his CV has always suggested. He’d taken some stick from City fans after the verbal build-up to the 176th local showdown that had unwittingly shoved him centre stage. His response was perfect.

Pogba: That win was for the fansVideo

It wasn’t an easy first 45 minutes for Pogba or any United player or fan for that matter. He hadn’t played badly by any means but as the cameras focused on Sir Alex Ferguson in the stands at the Etihad Stadium in that tormenting first half, the former manager must have known more than most what current boss Jose Mourinho and his side were going through.

The haunting echoes of Wembley 2011 and Guardiola’s magnificent Barcelona side in the Champions League final couldn’t have been far from Sir Alex’s thoughts. For Pogba and co to be able to banish those memories and deliciously wreck City’s early title-clinching celebrations was the mark of something special.

It can be the performance from Pogba that kickstarts his influence. There can be no going back from an inspirational display like this and his United team-mate Ander Herrera is in agreement.

“Paul Pogba can be the best in the world. I have already told him that he can be the best in the world,”
said Herrera after the 3-2 derby win.
“Today (Saturday) can be the first step to achieving it because he was fantastic. He needed one day like today.

“Apart from the goals, I think he played fantastic, even in the first half. The personality he has is just amazing. He always wants the ball, he never hides. That is fantastic.”

It was indeed an unforgettable 45 minutes in East Manchester for the Frenchman. Onwards and upwards.

The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.