Tuesday 23 July 2019

Pogba the £100m water-carrier toils for his team before justifying hype

Mourinho has now set his sights on bringing Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford four years after the Frenchman’s acrimonious departure for Juventus. Picture credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau
Mourinho has now set his sights on bringing Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford four years after the Frenchman’s acrimonious departure for Juventus. Picture credit: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Sam Wallace

The Stade Velodrome had to wait until almost 20 minutes until the end of this improbable semi-final victory for France before a tactical switch that permitted Paul Pogba at last to start playing like the £100m footballer everyone expects him to be.

It took the arrival of N'Golo Kanté as a substitute for Dimitri Payet in the 71st minute, a change in the France midfield and suddenly Pogba was causing havoc in the Germany box, twisting the blood of two defenders and launching a delicate chip into the centre which the big mitts of Manuel Neuer could not punch clear enough.

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Even before Antoine Griezmann had slipped in France's second goal, Pogba looked like the man again.

Kante's arrival had briefly released Pogba from the chains of a midfield job where he was obliged to chase German passes all evening and he responded with his first major intervention of the night.

Before then, had it been an old-fashioned police identity parade with the aim of finding the £100m footballer among this bunch of suspects, it would have taken the witness on the other side of the glass a long time to pause in front of Pogba.

The 23-year-old is France's poster boy of the tournament, the face who monopolises every magazine cover and yet until his team's second goal it still felt as if Euro 2016 had not yet started for the most wanted footballer on the continent.

He is, among many things, the last piece in Jose Mourinho's Manchester United strategy, whose arrival will allow the new manager, in his own words, to be able to breathe again.

Then, it is not hard to imagine Pogba in that gleaming all white of Real Madrid, saying buenos dias to the Bernabeu some time next month.

Against Germany, with his country up against it and defending a 1-0 half-time lead that they could scarcely believe was theirs, Pogba was asked by Didier Deschamps to do a different job to the one for which a star of his billing would ordinarily be required.

For long periods of the night, to borrow Eric Cantona's accusatory description of the menial duties Deschamps once fulfilled, Pogba carried the water.

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You might say that this was the ultimate team performance from Pogba, but it was certainly not the kind of role you might have expected from the man who has become the centre of Juventus's midfield in the last four years.

Although no one anticipated Germany to be so dominant of France in so many parts of the game and yet still lose.

Wherever Pogba goes this summer, this is a midfielder who fulfils all the expectations of the modern coach in search of a man who can do everything in the modern game.

At 6ft 3in with the smooth acceleration of a 400m runner on the home straight he is the ideal specimen for the 11km-a-match box-to-box responsibilities, yet there were times in that first half when he could not put a boot on the ball.

Before Kanté's arrival, Pogba was limited by the scope of his position, a deep lying midfielder alongside Blaise Matuidi, required to shield the French back four from the waves of Germany attacks and forced into an emergency action to plug the holes that were probed relentlessly by Joachim Löw's team.

There was just one occasion before the break, on 16 minutes, when Pogba was able to shift through those gears and break out of midfield and for a few brief seconds he looked like the unstoppable force that has raised his price so high. His ball spread wide to Payet was about all there was in terms of forward momentum from Pogba in that first half.

The Griezmann penalty that gave France the lead seconds before half-time gave Deschamps' team a clear and obvious goal after about 40 minutes of flounder. They had something to hang onto and for the time being there was no requirement to give Pogba any greater freedom than the little he had enjoyed in the first half.

He was there to cover the ground alongside Matuidi and try, when he could, to release Griezmann to threaten Germany on the counter-attack. When Kanté did eventually arrive as a replacement for Payet, he gave Pogba that moment of freedom which he seized on so productively before he returned to man the barricades, and see off the world champions.


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