Soccer is a sport punctured by “what ifs” and “if onlys”. Stories have been around for decades about teams that missed out on certain players, only to see them go and become superstars.
For example, Diego Maradona nearly signed for Sheffield United in the 1970’s, but the Bramall Lane club chose the current Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella instead, with El Diez deemed too pricey for the Yorkshire outfit.
Manchester United supporters will have been cursing their luck too, when another one of these stories emerged in the press recently. The Old Trafford outfit could have signed James Rodriguez—the 2014 World Cup’s outstanding player—as a teenager for just £5 million back in 2010, but United officials failed to respond when Rodriguez’s club at the time—Club Atletico Banfield—proposed a potential transfer.
But there was a much more obvious transfer faux pas staring the Red Devils in the face yesterday in the form of the now Juventus and France midfielder, Paul Pogba. After leaving Manchester United in July 2012 and accusing the club of “disrespect”, per The Guardian, the Frenchman has gone on to establish himself as one of the finest midfield players in Europe; at 21 years old, he’s arguably the best young player on the planet.
For those who have not followed Pogba’s progress since he traded Manchester for Turin, they were afforded an emphatic indicator of his development as player in France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the World Cup last-16 clash.
In truth, the Frenchman didn’t really have that good a game in the heart of midfield. But not only did he score the crucial opening goal against a very cohesive Super Eagles side, he showcased the positive signs that you’d want to see from any young central midfielder.
Primarily, there was absolutely no halting Pogba’s want for the ball. Granted, he gave it away cheaply on more than one occasion, but he never shirked any responsibility and despite being the youngest player on the pitch for Les Bleus, he did more than any other player to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
And although it was a patchy individual performance, there were moments of genuine quality, too. He showcased wonderful vision on the edge of the box a couple of times, inches away playing teammates through on goal with some incisive through balls.
Then, midway through the first half he burst forward, dropped a shoulder to beat his man, played the ball out wide and then got on the end of the cross with a superb volley. It was Pogba’s game in a nutshell: the blend of raw physicality and wonderful elegance.
That particular moment was this young player can do at his very best. While his performances in the World Cup would offer the impression of an indisputably talented player who is still a little rough around the edges, his domestic form is would suggest quite the opposite; that despite being just 21 years old, Pogba is very much the complete midfield player already.
He forced his way into Antonio Conte’s Bianconeri team from the outset of the 2013/14, forming a formidable midfield triumvirate with Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. Juventus went on the enjoy a record breaking season, of which the Frenchman was a key part, appearing 36 times and notching seven goals and seven assists, per Who Scored?.
While he has showed fleeting glimpses of his ability out in Brazil, during the Serie A campaign, Pogba showed it all. He has a plethora of hugely desirable attributes and is capable of dominating matches with his brute athleticism or courtesy of his astute technical abilities. Naturally, his performances have given rise to plenty of interest from a host of potential suitors, including Chelsea, who are reportedly willing to part with £60 million to get Pogba on board, per Goal.com.
Pogba’s agent has confirmed that he will remain in Turin next season though, per The Independent, and in both Vidal and Pirlo, the Frenchman couldn’t ask for two better midfield role models to learn from. But with just two years remaining on his Bianconeri contract, there’ll be plenty of European football’s most illustrious names keeping a close eye on his situation.
But for the time being, Pogba’s focus will be very much on this French team’s World Cup campaign. They face Germany in the quarter-finals and given the strength that Joachim Low’s team possess in midfield, Pogba will have to be at his very best if Les Bleus are going to wrestle the initiative in that area of the pitch.
And although Pogba has impressed in fits and starts in this tournament so far, there is plenty more to come from this wonderfully gifted central midfield player. Perhaps he was a little overwhelmed by the grandeur of the World Cup initially, but there have been signs Pogba is set to grow into this tournament. If he continues to do so, then the French will feel a whole lot better about their chances of lifting their second World Cup.