FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: No.14 – Paul Pogba
After studying Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente while at Juventus, Alvaro Morata has likened playing in Serie A to attending university. But if the striker benefited from a world-class education during his time in Turin, then what about the invaluable lessons learned by Paul Pogba since his arrival at the club in 2012?
Having joined from Manchester United as a highly regarded but untrusted teenager, the Frenchman won four Serie A titles, two Italian Cups and played in a Champions League final during his time with the Bianconeri, and also captained his country to victory at the U20 World Cup. He later became a full international in his own right, and was given a masterclass in tactical and personal discipline by current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte before receiving more responsibility from Max Allegri.
Pogba also spent time picking up tips from illustrious team-mates Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal, Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira. In the summer of 2015, he was already regarded as one of the most gifted midfielders in the world, constantly linked with moves away from Juve in stories that discussed world-record transfer fees.
Pressure on young shoulders
He still must learn a lot but he’s a 23-year-old and should become a top-level European midfielder
Yet the departures of Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal meant the Old Lady had to retain Pogba last summer, with the club handing him a vastly improved contract and the club’s iconic No.10 shirt. That led to significantly heightened expectations as the 2015/16 campaign got under way and – carrying a legacy built by the likes of Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero – the burden on his young shoulders proved overwhelming.
“Pogba’s problem is that he has too much quality and when he makes mistakes he gets frustrated,” compatriot Patrice Evra told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Sure, losing the ball is annoying, but it happens because he’s someone who always goes for it and does not hold back.”
He wilted when facing the bigger teams and was clearly targeted in the first leg of Juve’s last-16 Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, where Pep Guardiola ensured his side swamped Pogba whenever he received a pass and forced him into numerous turnovers.
A goal in the return clash couldn't help Juve avoid elimination, but then everything suddenly began to click. Pogba weighed in with five goals and seven assists in the final 12 games of the season, his contributions helping the team to register a second consecutive league-and-cup Double. “Paul has come on a great deal and put in some important displays,” Allegri told a press conference during that period. “If he keeps it simple he’s unplayable. He still must learn a lot but he’s a 23-year-old and should become a top-level European midfielder.”
Like the Juventus No. 10 shirt, his new-found status as the most expensive player in history has taken a toll on Pogba
Back to his best, a lengthy transfer saga this summer resulted in a return to Old Trafford, his former club paying over £89 million for a player who had left for minimal compensation four years earlier. Like the Juventus No.10 shirt, his newfound status as the most expensive player in history has taken a toll on Pogba, who's yet to rediscover the devastating performances he is obviously capable of delivering.
There have been glimpses, of course; the wonderful array of tricks, flicks and laser-guided passes have occasionally surfaced, along with a couple of superbly taken goals. But with the stage set for the pupil to showcase what he's learned during his time away, the Theatre of Dreams has yet to see Pogba at his scene-stealing best.