James Lawton: Paul Pogba has yet to justify his billing as the new Platini - or his £100m valuation
For all his promise, Paul Pogba has yet to justify his billing as the new Platini - or his £100m valuation - despite the glowing testimony of Capello and Conte, writes James Lawton
Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30
No, there has never been a football cross-roads so paved with gold but what, really, is the quality of the shiny stuff? Is the talent and competitive rage of Paul Pogba truly 24 carat or, just maybe, something a little less pure in its refinement?
In Italy, where he won his fourth Serie A title soon after celebrating his 23rd birthday and came to wear the No 10 shirt of such Juventus legends as Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini and Ireland's own favourite son Liam Brady, there is no doubt he is leaving a vacancy for the next prospective football god.
At home, his French countrymen, bruised by defeat in the Euro final, are still stunned by their need to postpone his coronation as football's most phenomenally gifted young player.
And elsewhere many are asking the question posed by former England and Barcelona striker Gary Lineker in the last few days: "Is he the world's most over-rated footballer?"
It is a theory that surely looms hugely over Jose Mourinho's attempt to re-make his image as the new manager of Manchester United.
The Special One's commitment to the staggering £100m offer for Pogba - inflated so grotesquely by agent Mino Raiola's £20m slice of the action - is certainly being seen in one of two ways.
The first is that Mourinho's old jugular-seeking instincts have been re-born in his belief that Pogba has the potential to dominate the game over the next decade quite as profoundly as has Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the one that might just be passing.
The second is that it is the act of a desperate man pushed to his limits by the need to have an instant impact on the club that under-performed so haplessly last season under Louis van Gaal.
And that Pogba has been more successful in creating an alluring myth of greatness than irresistible evidence of the highest gifts.
Everything depends on Lineker being wrong over the next season or two - and such as Pogba's former Juve coach Antonio Conte and another occupant of that celebrated No 10 shirt, the Italian heavyweight figure Fabio Capello, making perfectly weighed assessments of the son of African parents who rose so spectacularly in the youth football of northern France.
Conte, who swooped for Pogba when he left Old Trafford on a free transfer four years ago and made him increasingly influential in the coach's run of three straight Italian titles - was clear that he would always put the highest value on Pogba's services when he gave up the Italian team job to join Chelsea this summer.
He said: "Paul Pogba's potential is simply immense - it is very hard to overstate the value of it."
Capello also puts his huge reputation in Italian football on the same line. When Capello, now the nation's leading football analyst after parting with the Russian national team at the age of 70, speaks of Pogba it is only in superlatives.
The weight of his opinion is measured in an extraordinary body of achievement: four Serie A titles as a player with Juve and Milan, five as a coach of Milan and Roma, plus one Champions League triumph with Milan.
Capello says of the man Mourinho now craves: "Pogba is the only current player who truly has everything in his game. He is someone who possesses strength, quality and the ability to change pace.
"There is no-one else who can combine this change of pace with his level of technique.
"He covers the defence, presses his opponents and can shoot. Yes, he is the only player who truly has everything in his game."
So why was it that the great coronation was postponed, if not abandoned, along the Champs Elysees earlier this month?
Why was the dominant figure in the final that riveted the nation not the fabled young Pogba but a Ronaldo who spent most of the match off the field, an injury-stricken but still massively influential force in his role as honorary coach and self-elected cheerleader of Portugal's hard-won victory?
The worry, and surely it must lurk in the mind of Mourinho and the United executives who have been talked into such an extravagant offer, is that for all Pogba's ravishing gifts, his superb physicality and easiest of touches, there is indeed a missing element.
Maybe it is the passion which, however unappealing at times, takes hold of Ronaldo when the stakes are at their highest - and has always driven on his great rival Messi.
Messi, of course, needed hormone treatment to bring him to adequate levels of physique and strength. But then no-one began to query the extent of his rage to succeed on the football field.
It is impossible to imagine Messi smothering the kind of failure that came in the Stade de France in some relentlessly trumpeted sampling of the jet-set life enjoyed by Pogba and his friend Romelu Lukaku.
Pogba, hosting yacht parties and puffing on the Italian cult appendage of an electronic cigarette, hardly appeared overcome by the anguish of a beaten warrior.
By contrast Messi, beset by tax problems back home in Spain, reacted to his part in Argentina's recent failure in the Copa de America by announcing his retirement from international football.
No such shadows accompanied Pogba to the sun-lit Miami Beach but then his defenders would no doubt argue that he had no cause to turn his face from the sun.
Mourinho, one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game, has just delivered the most astounding vote of confidence and in Italy the opinions of Capello and Conte are rock-like.
Conte adds: "Over the last few years his progress has been immense, his influence over Juve growing with each game. Now he is in the middle of adjusting to the international game. I've no doubt he will prove just as successful in that arena. His quality, his power, naturally takes him to the heart of any team."
Certainly there were, despite his uneven presence in the European Championships, moments when he threatened to be the supreme orchestrator of the tumultuous tournament.
He paid for a less than overwhelming performance in the opener against Romania with demotion to the bench in the next game against Albania but no doubt coach Didier Deschamps felt he had the time and the situation to create a mood of self-examination in his most gifted player.
In the semi-final against the formidable Germans, Deschamps certainly had reason to believe he had drawn a superb and almost certainly decisive dividend, not least when Pogba dwarfed the reigning world champions with a piece of play that made France's second, crushing goal inevitable.
Mourinho no doubt pines for such examples of supreme facility and vision, qualities to entirely justify Paul Pogba's place at the top of the list of football's most valuable players ahead of such virtuosos as Gareth Bale, Ronaldo, Neymar, Luis Suarez and the ultimately cut-price Messi and his boyhood hormone pills.
The United manager's encouragement is his suspicion that anything like similar growth in Pogba might just leave a club desperate for some old momentum with not just the player of the moment but perhaps one for the ages.