Former Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva applauded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for restoring happiness at Old Trafford, specifically praising him for getting Paul Pogba to smile again.
Solskjaer was appointed as United’s interim manager in December after Jose Mourinho’s tumultuous time at the helm came to an abrupt end on the back of a 3-1 defeat to bitter rivals Liverpool.
Much of Mourinho’s reign was dominated by stories of player discontent, with the Portuguese coach appearing to alienate many members of the squad in his two and a half seasons.
Pogba was arguably the one to have the worst relationship with Mourinho, getting dropped on a regular basis, fielding public criticism from his manager and even being told he would never captain the team again.
Since Mourinho’s dismissal, Pogba has – his red card in Tuesday’s Champions League defeat to Paris Saint-Germain aside – been United’s best player and scored eight times, and Rafael believes it is all down to his former team-mate Solskjaer.
When asked by Omnisport if he had been surprised by the Norwegian’s impact, the Lyon defender said: “I wasn’t surprised, not at all, because I know Ole very well.
“He’s the one who bought my brother [Fabio] at Cardiff City, and I was training with him in the reserves [at United], I played some games with him.
“He’s very strong mentally, he’s smiling, he’s making the players play for him. In today’s football, this is very, very important. Many players have the skills, but they need a coach who’s going to make them play for him.
“This is what happened to Pogba. He wasn’t happy, he wasn’t smiling. A player like Pogba, if he doesn’t smile, if he doesn’t want to play, it’s hard. Now, they all want to play.
“Mourinho, in truth, it seems like this is the opposite, the players were not happy, they were thinking about defending too much all the time.
“Some players know how to defend, but when you talk too much, ‘you have to defend, defend’, they get tired. Maybe, I’m saying maybe, this is what happened, I don’t know.
“The thing about players smiling, [Alex] Ferguson was like that as well. Of course, some games he was telling you, ‘be careful, you have to defend’, but he was never saying, ‘defend, don’t attack’.
“He was never saying that. It’s important for the players, because if they think only about defending, you can’t even defend, because you’re thinking too much, and then it’s over.”