So, the 2018 World Cup is over. France are the worthy world champions, and the highs and the lows that football fans across the world have experienced over the last four weeks will be remembered for years to come. Now we have to wait another four years until the next World Cup, which will kick off in the footballing hotbed of Qatar.
Over the past month or so, we have seen players catapult their name into the stratosphere, cement legacies, and others dent their reputation. There have also been those who have made people sit up and rethink everything they thought they knew about them, à la Paul Pogba.
Pogba has had a great tournament, while many were suggesting that France wouldn’t achieve anything if they played him in central midfield, and that Didier Deschamps should take Blaise Matuidi off the left wing and pair him with N’Golo Kante in the middle of the park. Shockingly, Deschamps knew his best team, and was able to get the best out of Paul Pogba, helping him return to the kind of form that marked him out as one of the most exciting players in the world prior to his move to Manchester United two years ago.
Growing into the World Cup
With an assist and a heavily deflected strike creeping over the Australian line, France got their World Cup campaign off to a rather shaky start. However, from the get go, fans and pundits were impressed with Pogba’s performance.
In France’s second group match against Peru, Pogba impressed again. However, it was another part of Pogba’s game that helped France to victory. His well-timed tackle won the ball back for France, allowing them to break, and score moments later. Pogba was rested for the final group game against Denmark, as France sauntered to nil nil draw, securing their place in the knockout stages as group winners.
Podgba, the quarterback
In the round of 16 against Argentina, Pogba’s play was finally getting noticed by pundits who so regularly criticise him when he is wearing a red jersey. On the BBC highlights show the evening after the Argentina match, Jermaine Jenas referred to Pogba as a quarter-back, due to his ability to effortlessly spray the ball across the pitch.
Pogba’s confidence was growing as France progressed. By the time the quarter-final against Uruguay, he had hit his groove and, with Uruguay less of an attacking threat due to the loss of Edinson Cavani, he was able to sprint forward more often. Pogba’s discipline was also put to the test when the Uruguayan players tried to rile the French playmaker, in order to get him booked.
Thankfully for France, Pogba didn’t react to any of Uruguay’s shady tactics, and, in turn, progressed to the semi-final’s with a full squad to choose from. In the semi-final against Belgium, Pogba performed his role again to perfection, allowing Kylian Mbappé free with his pinpoint passing. It was in defence, however, that Pogba did his best work, as France defended brilliantly to deny Belgium an equaliser.
Paul Pogba who had quietly gone about his business.
Performance in the final
World Cup finals are usually dull. However, thankfully, this year’s final bucked that worrying trend with the kind of match that anyone could get caught up in. Pogba came into his own as the game opened up more in the second half, and it was his own pass from deep inside his own half to Kylian Mbappé that set him up for his first goal of the tournament. That ball to Mbappé was pitch perfect and summed up the confidence that Pogba plays with for France.
For some reason, Antoine Griezmann was chosen as the man of the match. Fair enough, he scored a penalty at a crucial stage of the match, and it was his cross that Mandzukic headed into his own net, but other than that, the Atletico Madrid striker had a very quiet game by his usual high standards. For me, Paul Pogba finally showed that he has a huge presence in the big games.
Back to Mourinho, back to reality
Pogba will bask in World Cup winner’s glory for the next few weeks, and, for once, people like me will be happy to watch his latest Instagram story, because deep down we all know that when he returns to Manchester in early August it will be back to the same old Pogba that frustrates us week in week out.
What Pogba has proven during his time in Russia is that manager Jose Mourinho hasn’t supported him enough. Mourinho appeared on Russian TV for the World Cup and has rightly praised his midfielder for his impressive performances. That’s all well and good, but you can bet your bottom dollar that Mourinho will return to criticising Pogba come November/December time after United draw another match at home.
If Mourinho wasn’t as stubborn as he is, then Pogba would be playing in the same role for United that he is for France. Pogba’s passing game is suited to players who have lots of pace and are able to run onto his balls. Luckily for Pogba, United have the English equivalent of Kylian Mbappé on their books in Marcus Rashford. While his development has been stunted under Mourinho’s rule, he has pace to burn and a great first touch.
More criticism awaits Pogba
If Mourinho wants to be fondly remembered at Old Trafford, he will have to change his team’s style of play before it’s too late. If he doesn’t trust Rashford then you still have Romelu Lukaku up front who has pace to burn. While Mourinho’s position at Old Trafford is safe for now, Man United fans will not take much more of his surly attitude and his terrible treatment of players if trophies don’t start coming through the door. And after seeing how well their €105 million player can play in a system that highlights all his positive attributes, time could turn against Jose Mourinho.