"I don't think I have ever seen him play this well at club level. Not even at Juventus, where he was young and had the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal around him. He is at his absolute best at the moment and he is happy -- you can tell." Coming from someone who knows Paul Pogba very well and for a very long time, this is an important statement.
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The French midfielder has been excellent for Manchester United in recent weeks, playing with consistency, decisiveness and happiness. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his staff came up with a new, hybrid position for him, on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 formation, the results have been impressive.
"I am feeling really good right now," said Pogba after United thrashed AS Roma 6-2 in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on April 29. "I am feeling happy here. I play on the left-hand side in a kind of No. 8 position -- wide, but with freedom when we have the ball. I enjoy playing there. I link up well with Bruno [Fernandes] and Luke [Shaw], and the balance of the team is good too."
It feels as though he is peaking at the right time for both club and country, with Man United facing a critical run of fixtures in the league, the prospect of the Europa League final and, of course, France's quest to win the Euros. Pogba's performance at Tottenham in the Premier League on April 11, with United winning 3-1, was world-class. His display against Roma last week in the Europa League was superb, too. In his last nine games (all competitions) for United -- most of them in his new position -- he has scored twice and added four assists.
"When he plays like this, Paul is exceptional. There are not many players in the world who can do what he does" said Solskjaer after the Roma game.
So what has changed and what has clicked for Pogba in the United team? The position, for sure, to the point that Didier Deschamps is also considering playing Pogba in a similar role with France at this summer's Euros (LIVE from June 11-July 11 on ESPN, ESPN+). It is a certainly another option for him.
What else? His fitness. After an ankle injury last season, his positive test for COVID-19 earlier in the 2020-21 campaign and other minor complaints, he is finally fully fit. He has worked really hard with Man United's fitness coaches and, like the rest of the team, is reaping the rewards.
What about his mindset? There is a difference there too. After the tensions at the end of 2020, which followed Mino Raiola's comments -- "it's over between Manchester United and Pogba" -- the midfielder is fully focused on the end of the season and beyond... with Manchester United.
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"I'm happy here," Pogba repeated to me a few times after the Roma match. He can see that the team is improving, and knows that if they had started the season better, they'd be much closer to Manchester City at the top. He wants to win the Europa League to almost validate United's progress. He has a strong relationship with Solskjaer but also with the rest of the coaching staff, including Michael Carrick, and he also has a year left on his contract as well.
As for his future at the club level, Pogba can definitely see himself staying longer and the club is confident that he will do exactly that. Negotiating with Raiola over a new deal -- Pogba's contract expires on June 30, 2022 -- won't be easy though, especially if the wage demands are too high. But it might not pan out that way. Pogba knows that the club wants to keep him, and he expects talks to start as soon as the season is over. He also knows that the market won't be in his favour this summer given the financial stress of the pandemic at all levels of game.
At 28 and in this kind of form, Pogba is in a strong position and even if it doesn't suit United, he can also wait to enter the final year in his deal before deciding what's best. Before that, there is a European final to get to by finishing the job against Roma, and the Euros to try and add to France's World Cup win in 2018.
Since Pogba moved back to Old Trafford in the summer of 2016, soon after France lost the Euro final to Portugal in Paris, international breaks with Les Bleus were often a breath of fresh air for him in tough moments, a chance to relax away from the stress of Man United. Right now, the breath of fresh air is at his club, and France fans will be hoping he can take this momentum into the Euros.