World Cup 2018: Why Paul Pogba is France's real MVP
France defeated Uruguay and will face Belgium in the World Cup semifinals. Les Bleus are unbeaten in this tournament, winning five and drawing one. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe top the scoring with three goals each. Didier Deschamps has quality in every area. N'Golo Kante, Benjamin Pavard, Raphael Varane and captain Hugo Lloris are other standout performers.
One player tends to polarise opinion because his personality rivals his sizeable talent. Subsequently, Paul Pogba doesn't receive the credit he deserves.
Manchester United reacquired the midfielder for a record £90 million fee [at the time]. His excellent spell at Juventus made Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to sell him appear regrettable. After two seasons back at Old Trafford, critics say he has not delivered value commensurate with his price tag.
Jose Mourinho appeared to be one of the critics, benching the player mid-season in 2017/18. Although the United manager was cagey regarding his reasons, always denying there was no problem between him and the player, detractors assumed it was the player's lack of commitment to playing without the ball and ran with it. The French international was good for nothing with United.
Of course, opinion, be it individual or of the masses, is not the same as fact. Statistics show Pogba's two seasons at Old Trafford have been better than his stay in Italy. He also won the Europa League Player of the Tournament in the 2016-17 season. With Fred's arrival, he will only get better.
But with France, Paul Labile Pogba is different. He is more consistent, open, and is given more freedom to create, which is not visible to many, including Graeme Souness.
Didier Deschamps sets up France in a 4-2-3-1 with Pogba and Kante in a double-pivot, Griezmann below Olivier Giroud and Blaise Matuidi [or Corentin Tolisso] and Kylian Mbappe as wingers. Matuidi and Tolisso are not natural wingers, but both have given Deschamps more reason to show faith in them than Ousmane Dembele has.
The boss admitted he considers the youngster forcing a transfer to Barcelona a selfish act that hurt his team, Borussia Dortmund. The same thing can't happen within the national team sphere, but to Deschamp, selfish is selfish.
He deploys Matuidi to play as a central midfielder with Pogba taking up the central role. Tolisso filled in when the Juventus man was suspended for accumulated cautions. France's left wing is usually left vacant.
Just like best friend Romelu Lukaku, Pogba is a dressing room leader. On the pitch, he can usually be seen shouting, commanding and instructing players on what to do, especially when defending set-pieces. Mentally, he has a massive influence on the team and a born leader.
Kante and Pogba's partnership is perfectly balanced. Kante joins Matuidi as a double pivot in front of the centre-halves, handling defensive duties and freeing Pogba to play his attacking game. Club and country's no.6, the lanky stylist is among the world's most complete midfielders. Apart from his dynamic passing range, his intelligence, anticipation, and strength on the ball make him the midfield boss. He has averaged six successful long balls per game in the tournament. His propensity for dribbling first can get him in trouble, but it should be looked at as a cost of doing such a profitable business.
Against Argentina, Pogba was phenomenal. He made 10 recoveries, doubling his nearest teammates. His presence in the final third was lethal. France's attack is free-flowing. Pogba takes advantage. He is not the fastest player on the pitch, nor the player with the best dribbling skills, but he knows how to dribble past opponents and open up space for a dangerous pass. The failures do not cancel the success his approach has given Les Bleus.
Pogba oozed class against Uruguay too. His box-to-box presence made France troubled Uruguay's deep-sitting defensive block. Griezmann's goal came from Pogba's good work. He picked up the ball in his half, dribbled past two Uruguayan players and found the perfect pass for Tolisso to set the goal.
All the playful ads, hairstyles, and flashy play and smiles make him ground zero for fans who take the game too seriously. Jeers and whistles aside, the truth of the matter is Pogba has already proven he is world-class, Right now, he should be France's Golden Ball nominee in this tournament despite Kylian Mbappe's brace against Argentina.
Pogba lacks consistency at United, but that could simply be down to Mourinho insisting on playing him in a more defensive role, challenging him to change his game rather than showing confidence in the skills that motivated the Portuguese to go all in to sign him. Fred's arrival, to play alongside Pogba and Nemanja Matic, should give Mourinho his Kante and Matuidi, allowing him to free Pogba to wreak havoc. People forget he was outperforming Kevin de Bruyne in the early season before an injury and suspension derailed his campaign.
With France, Kante is the immovable object to Pogba's irresistible force. Both are masters of their respective arts but incapable of doing what the other does. Hopefully, by acquiring Fred, Mourinho has demonstrated he now understands this as Deschamps long has. Pogba is more valuable to the forward line than Griezmann, Giroud, or Mbappe. Each one is world-class at his particular role, but everything the others do comes through Pogba. Without him, fewer opportunities would come their way. Pogba is France's true MVP. There is no reason he cannot be the same for Manchester United right now.