Paul Pogba’s ascent to stardom has been so steep it is easy to forget that he is still only 21 years of age. No player seemed to feature as regularly on the lists of rising young stars at this summer’s World Cup as the Juventus midfielder.
As a teenager, Pogba was spotted by Manchester United while progressing through the ranks of one of France’s oldest and most famous academies at Le Havre. Tall, strong and gifted with a natural knack for holding on to the ball, he also possesses a fierce shot. Defensively, his positioning and ability to quickly cover ground has earned him the nickname ‘Paul the Octopus’ in Turin. His rise to fame may have begun in Manchester, but a lack of confidence shown in him from Sir Alex Ferguson and the presence of several more experienced midfielders forced him to seek first-team football in Italy.
The way he has since been adopted by the Turin public as one of their own was demonstrated in a match against Atalanta this season. His performance that particular day prompted Juve supporters to start a chorus of ‘Don’t sell Pogba’ in the direction of chairman Andrea Agnelli. His talent has, of course, caught the attention of Europe’s biggest clubs, many of whom would relish the chance to build a team around his athleticism in the centre of the park. Chelsea had their eye on Pogba as a replacement for Frank Lampard before signing Cesc Fabregas.
Pogba’s ambition, though, is sometimes marked by a certain naivety. Against Honduras, he could have been sent off if not for a very understanding referee, kicking out at Wilson Palacios after being fouled. The Hondurans quite clearly saw him as a key player and an easy target and sought to provoke a reaction.
Didier Deschamps, a paternal figure, looked to protect Pogba in the post-match press conference. “I’m not here to point the finger but to help Pogba,” he said. “I must ensure that he stays in control. With his long legs, it’s easier to catch Pogba; he takes a lot of tackles.”
If he had been sent off, what turned out to be an easy victory could have panned out very differently. For a few moments, France were at the mercy of referee Sandro Meira Ricci. In 1998, Zinedine Zidane had been sent off against Saudi Arabia in similar circumstances after stamping on an opposition player in response to a tackle. Pogba escaped the same fate, and will hope to follow in Zidane’s footsteps for the right reasons against Switzerland on Friday.