Paul Pogba has always been a man on a mission, on the move, and with a point to prove. Still aged just 21, this summer’s World Cup provides the Juventus midfielder with the biggest stage of them all to showcase his exciting talent with the French national team.
Pogba excelled through the youth levels of international football, including captaining the France Under-20 side to 2013 World Cup glory, being named Player of the Tournament in the process. Repeating that success in Brazil will be a tall order, but the youngster has been blessed with a fantastic footballing education that sees him well equipped to make an impression on the competition.
For it was at the tender age of 16 that Pogba was signed by Manchester United, where he joined the famed youth academy of the Premier League outfit. Despite garnering plaudits through his consistently strong performances for the reserve team, his time at Old Trafford did not work out, puzzling as this was due to United’s perceived weakness in central midfield.
It was therefore without hesitation that Juventus snapped up the then 19-year-old, immediately integrating Pogba into the first team. Whereas the Frenchman made just seven appearances for United and seemed to have fallen out with Sir Alex Ferguson, Antonio Conte showed faith in his young charge, playing him 37 times in his very first season in Turin, helping him to win the European Golden Boy Award.
Pogba plays with a confidence that seems innately entwined with a self-belief in his own abilities, which he will trust in through his time in Brazil, and was no doubt solidified by Conte. He has also benefitted from a partnership with Andrea Pirlo, a man who he describes as his sporting hero. It is alongside the irrepressible Italian that he acknowledges his career highlight to be winning Serie A twice for the Old Lady, playing in all but two of Juve’s League games last time round as they recorded an impressive tally of 102 points.
Despite continued speculation linking Pogba with a move away from Italy, with Karim Benzema the latest to stoke the fires by stating he ‘would love’ for his national teammate to join him in Madrid, it appears that the 21-year-old is staying put at the Juventus Stadium. The World Cup is not being treated as a shop window, with the midfielder’s agent asserting that his man wishes to stay with the Bianconeri, while Pogba himself backed this up: “My future is here.”
His other career highlight was winning his first cap for France, where he is set to follow in the hallowed footsteps of Patrick Vieira and Zinedine Zidane in bossing his nation’s midfield. His early performances for Les Bleus have seen comparisons drawn in his homeland with Vieira, who was instrumental in France’s victories at the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.
However, the protégé states: “I want to be Paul Pogba, not Vieira, but I want to be better than him.” Emphatic words from a young man, yet exactly what his supporters in France will be excited to hear. Zidane meanwhile feels that Pogba, “will go on to be one of the best central midfield players in Europe,” and he also believes his compatriot could one day win the Ballon d’Or.
Closer on the horizon, this summer’s Group E sees Les Bleus drawn with Ecuador, Honduras and Switzerland, which represents a great opportunity for Didier Deschamps’ side to get into the knockout stages. Pogba will likely be lining up alongside enterprising enforcer Blaise Matuidi and accomplished ball-player Yohan Cabaye. The Paris Saint-Germain duo complement Pogba in the French engine room, a young man who is fast becoming the complete midfielder.
Quick, strong, and blessed with good feet, a complete passing range and a penchant for the spectacular, he will be looking to explode in Brazil. He even displayed an aerial threat in opening the scoring in the World Cup warm-up game against Norway, an area of his game he feels improvement is required.
France Coach Deschamps is full of both praise and caution when it comes to Pogba: “For him it is all so easy, he has incredible athleticism and is amazing in terms of overall quality. But that is not enough in this game. Concentration and application should not be underestimated - especially at this level.”
One of Pogba’s main aims for the World Cup is to ‘make people forget’ about the disastrous campaign last time round, when the French crashed out at the group stage without a win and amid controversial mutiny. The name Paul Pogba will be something he is looking for people to remember in the wake of the Brazil showpiece.
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