Tuesday 19 February 2019

John Giles: I like the new Paul Pogba - once he doesn't act the clown, France will win World Cup

France's Paul Pogba celebrates victory over Belgium
France's Paul Pogba celebrates victory over Belgium

John Giles

IF Paul Pogba's one-off display of professionalism in the semi-final against Belgium is a sign of a more permanent shift in the lad's attitude, France will win the World Cup on Sunday.

I really hope Pogba has seen the light and we will see a different player from now on, one who wants to do the kind of things on a football field that gets everybody talking rather than stir publicity on social media for the sake of it.

Fame comes easily to great footballers but only if they do it on the pitch. People are not fooled, for all the hype and glamour. They know what they see with their own eyes.

Pogba's gradual improvement throughout this tournament peaked against Belgium and mirrored France's rise to the final. The team was better with him fully engaged and playing as part of the group and not for himself.

There was a moment in the game against Uruguay when Pogba was losing it, drawn into bad-tempered bit of pushing and shoving and stopped in his tracks when Didier Deschamps stood in front of him.

Whatever the French boss said calmed him down immediately and was perhaps a sign that Deschamps has found a way to control Pogba.

Ultimately, it is down to Pogba. He played very well against Belgium and rightly earned praise for it. The test now is to see that for what it is, forget about it and go out and do the same against Croatia.

If Deschamps has had a role to play in moderating Pogba, he deserves credit and I would also give him the thumbs up for leaning heavily on N'Golo Kante.

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I was concerned before the tournament that Deschamps didn't know his best team and that was probably true but he does now and that's the most important thing for this final.

There is, of course, the possibility that Pogba will overdose on the praise and go his own way again. It's a World Cup final after all and billions will be watching so the temptation to clown it up will be ever present.

So I don't want to see any new haircuts or him playing to the cameras. I want to see the player who delivered a selfless and committed performance for his team-mates and manager. If that happens against Croatia, the day will belong to France. If it doesn't, we could be celebrating a small nation's great achievement on Sunday night.

I've been very impressed with Zlatko Dalic throughout the tournament. He is calm on the touchline which I always like to see and he knows enough about the game to realise that when you have someone like Luka Mordic, you just tell everyone else to give him the ball.

I know I bang on a lot about lads who can do what Modric does but this World Cup has highlighted the depressing fact that there are even fewer like him around now than we had in Brazil in 2014.

Once Lionel Messi went home, it fell to Modric to be the star playmaker in the tournament.

He had help, it must be said from Roberto Martinez who managed to turn Eric de Bruyne, the best playmaker in the Premier League and one of the best in Europe last season, into a shadow of the player Pep Guardiola places so much faith in.

Instead of trusting de Bruyne to run the show, he stuck him wide on the left. I didn't rate Martinez as a manager before the tournament and feel that my thoughts on him were confirmed in Russia.

Against England, Modric exposed Gareth Southgate's odd decision to change course completely after two years of orthodoxy which helped him qualify comfortably for the punt that it was.

His decision to use just one recognised midfielder, Jordan Henderson in the first game against Panama, looked to me like a bright idea – a wild gamble on something he had never done before.

Southgate definitely changed the debate about England across the water to a much more civilised one but kind headlines won't win you a football match.

Good, well-organised footballers will and England's set-pieces carried them a long way in this tournament.

Set-pieces are a fundamental in the game and every manager should be working on them so there should be no praise for doing your job but Southgate gets a big pat on the back because he clearly did that part of his job very well indeed.

When faced with Modric, however, his plan faltered and ultimately collapsed. You cannot hand a team like Croatia midfield and expect them to ignore the gift.

Put simply and harsh as it might sound, England were not that good in the first place and when they finally met a player with the talent to use the space Southgate's plan offered up, Modric ran the show.

It would be great to see him rewarded for his work with a World Cup winner's medal but I would not be unhappy to see this young France team lift the trophy either.

As I said, if the right Pogba turns up, they will be hard to beat.


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