The day Euro 2016 kicked off, Paul Pogba’s youthful face featured on the front page of L’Equipe, flanked by pictures of France’s all-time greats Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.(RESULTS | STANDINGS)
It was the French sports daily’s way of illustrating just how much the host nation was expecting from the 23-year-old midfielder — maybe too much.
A couple of weeks later and Pogba has shown only glimpses of his talent on the pitches of France, with some people starting to wonder whether he was worth all the hype.
“Is Pogba the world’s most over-rated player?”, former England captain turned pundit Gary Lineker tweeted after Pogba again looked ordinary in France’s laboured 2-1 win over Ireland for a place in the quarter-finals.
It was a different story at the start of the year when Pogba humbly took his mother, Yeo, to a glitzy FIFA gala. Wearing a flashy, gold-flowered jacket, the Juventus player looked proud to feature in the governing body’s World XI alongside players such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Pogba was fresh from a scintillating season in which he had scored 10 goals to help Juventus win a domestic double and go all the way to the Champions League final, his heroics earning him the right to be granted the number 10 shirt once graced by Platini.
“I have played with some great young players but Pogba is the best young player I have ever seen,” former Juventus and Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo said at the time.
Unlike Platini or Zidane, Pogba in not a true playmaker, and nor is he a genuine defensive midfielder. Similar in many ways to Patrick Vieira, fondly remembered by France and Arsenal fans, he needs space to express his rare mix of athleticism and skills to the full.
Highly successful at club level with four Serie A titles under his belt, he has rarely been entirely convincing for France since earning the first of his 35 caps in a 3-1 win over Georgia in March 2013, even if he was named the 2014 World Cup’s best young player.
“Paul, of course, can play better than that,” France coach Didier Deschamps said after substituting Pogba in his side’s opening 2-1 win over Romania at this tournament. “I’m not going to be too hard on him but his potential is such that he can contribute more than he showed tonight.”
Deschamps, who dropped Pogba to the bench for Les Bleus’ second game against Albania, still has to figure out what is the best position for his versatile player, recent outings suggesting it could be on the left side of midfield.
It is not only Deschamps who is frustrated with Pogba, so are the French fans who have never had a chance to watch him at club level since he was only 16 when he left the renowned Le Havre academy for Manchester United before moving to Juventus in 2012.
Lineker’s comment suggested Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, was being greedy to ask for more than 100 million euros for his player, who is reportedly being courted by both Manchester United and Real Madrid.
With a quarter-final tie against Iceland approaching on Sunday, Pogba has little time left to stamp his authority on Euro 2016 the way Platini and Zidane did at the 1984 European Championship and 1998 World Cup respectively.
“I’m not worried,” said France goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris. “Great players often wait for important moments to show their class.”