STOCKHOLM, May 24 (Reuters) - Manchester United’s Paul Pogba took a step towards helping repay his world record transfer fee with the opening goal in their Europa League win over Ajax Amsterdam on Wednesday which gave them a place in next season’s lucrative Champions League.
Pogba, who rejoined the 20-times English champions last summer from Juventus for 89 million pounds ($115.43 million), fired United ahead in the 18th minute in Stockholm helped by a massive deflection off Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez.
Henrik Mkhitaryan added the second three minutes after the break to kill off Ajax, who fielded the youngest ever starting lineup in a European final with an average age of 22.
As well as striking the scrappy opener, the energetic Pogba popped up all over the pitch, forming an effective midfield trident with Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, outmuscling and nullifying the inexperienced Dutch side.
It was no man of the match performance -- that honour went to Herrera -- and not exactly the glitzy display United smashed the transfer record for, but Pogba’s decisive role will help ease the pressure on him after an underwhelming first season at Old Trafford for both the France international and the team.
It will also help United’s coffers. The club earned 6.5 million euros ($7.29 million) for beating Ajax, three million mor than their opponents, and will collect 12.7 million euros for entering the group stage of the Champions League.
An additional 1.5 million euros is up for grabs for each win in the Champions League group stage, while reaching the last 16 would bring an extra windfall of 16 million euros.
“The goal was to win all the way through this season. We’ve done it, and we’re proud,” Pogba said. “People say we’ve had a bad season but the prize is great and we’ve done it now. We have three trophies so enjoy it now. Nobody can talk.”
Pogba also played in the League Cup final victory over Southampton at Wembley Stadium but missed the Community Shield win over last season’s Premier League champions Leicester City having only just joined the Old Trafford club from Juve.
($1 = 0.7710 pounds)
$1 = 0.8911 euros Reporting by Richard Martin; editing by Ken Ferris