Paul Pogba has admitted that he missed playing in the Champions League last season at Manchester United, expressing a measure of delight at being back amongst Europe’s elite.
The Frenchman enjoyed four seasons of Champions League football with Juventus and started in the final against Barcelona back in 2016.
But he abandoned Champions League football to return to Man United last year and went on to claim the Europa League ‘Player of the Tournament’ award as Jose Mourinho’s men beat Ajax in the final to secure a place in this year’s group stages.
And Pogba, speaking to United Review ahead of the clash with FC Basel, noted that missing out on the Champions League last season was difficult.
“Obviously, I came to Manchester United to play in the Champions League,” he said. “I knew, last season, when I signed and came back here, that I would be playing in the Europa League. So the objective was to win that to obviously go back into the Champions League. That’s what we did and I’m very happy. Now we’re just back in it and back to the best cup competition in the world.
“We have a group now and people say it is an easy one for us in the Champions League. But the Champions League is never easy. You have got to play against teams who want to beat Manchester United. We’re just back in it, though, and want to prove to the world that we belong in that competition.
“The difference is it’s still big in the Europa League and you still play very good teams, but maybe not the biggest clubs. Now, in the Champions League, we could play Bayern Munich, Real Madrid or Barcelona – those teams who all won the trophy many times. I would say that is where we want to play.
“To be honest, I missed it [the anthem]. I missed it a lot last season. Just to hear it again kind of pushed me on to give the best. Obviously, when you hear that music, you just have goosebumps coming. You are excited. Everybody is excited – the fans and the players! It’s the best thing you can play in.”
Supporters should not expect United, or any English team, to pose a threat the established big boys in the Champions League this year. Jose Mourinho’s men have made significant improvements to the style and efficiency of their play in recent times but the gulf between British clubs and the rest is widening at an inexorable rate.
How should United approach this tournament then? Perhaps they should take a leaf out of Leicester City’s book. Craig Shakespeare’s side went further than any other English side last year, reaching the quarter finals, and it was because they didn’t renege on their direct, kick-and-rush style. They were disruptive, uncompromising, bursting with energy. Most of all, however, they remained loyal to what they were good at.
And this is the one thing Mourinho’s men should keep in mind as they embark on their latest European adventure. Pragmatism is necessary, of course, but the onus should always be on invoking the bold, powerful style that has hitherto hallmarked United’s 2017/18 campaign.