No excuses, Pogba and Mourinho must get the best out of enigmatic Frenchman for Man United

Matt Jones 16/07/2018
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World Cup winner: Paul Pogba.

Paul Pogba the Manchester United enigma, is now Paul Pogba a World Cup winner.

How can a player struggle so badly throughout the last season to exert his dominance at one of the biggest clubs in the world, yet saunter to success with one of the biggest nations at the World Cup two months later?

His sublime talent has now been showcased on the global stage twice, here in Russia where he was one of the top performing midfielders overall, following on from his breakout tournament four years ago in Brazil where he took home the Best Young Player accolade.

He clearly has the taste for the spotlight – evidenced further by his outlandish hairstyles, celebratory dance routines and the ease with which he handles the glare of the public eye.

Yet, this belies his struggles on the domestic front as he strives to live up to the weighty £89 million price tag which was placed around his neck when Manchester United brought him back “home” from Juventus two summers ago.

Compatriot Kylian Mbappe usurped Pogba of his young player crown following France’s epic 4-2 triumph over Croatia on Sunday, while the teenage terror and Antoine Griezmann each netted four times over the course of the tournament.

N’Golo Kante mercilessly and tirelessly chased, harried and tackled opponents. Raphael Varane was a calm and commanding presence at the back, looking like the top-tier defender we’ve seen him struggle to aspire to be at Real Madrid.

However, Pogba outshone them all. His nine key passes were second highest for Les Bleus while only two players passed more (N’Golo Kante and Raphael Varane). Set up to catch and counter, Pogba’s 35 accurate long balls were the most from France’s midfield and an important characteristic of their play and added to that was his 22 tackles which was third most for his side.

It’s not as if he has won the World Cup with far superior talent in blue than those alongside him in red domestically either.

For Mbappe, Griezmann and Kante, read Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sanchez and Nemanja Matic.

France manager Didier Deschamps is the international equivalent of Jose Mourinho – a pragmatic, defence-minded coach who has been chastised for failing to release a squad burgeoning with attacking talent from their shackles.

Can Paul Pogba find his best form at Old Trafford?

So that is no longer a valid reason for failure either. There can be no more excuses made for either Pogba’s inability to take the Premier League and Europe by storm, nor Mourinho’s failure to coax the best out of his brightest talent.

A consistent caveat of the poking of holes in Pogba’s failures during his two seasons back at Old Trafford, and particularly 2017/18, was the friction which clearly existed between manager and magician – Pep Guardiola dropped a bombshell at the start of the year by claiming Pogba had allegedly been offered to United’s arch rivals Manchester City by his agent Mino Raiola.

Cries came from some experts and fans suggesting the 25-year-old can only operate on the left of the 4-3-3, a system in which he thrived in Turin.

Others opined United needed younger or more robust legs around or behind him other than the aging Matic and feeble Ander Herrera in order to allow him the freedom to roam forward.

Yet the World Cup has dispelled these arguments as pure myth, with Pogba flourishing in an all-action role.

Among his fellow Les Bleus colleagues, only Blaise Mutuidi and Lucas Hernandez made more tackles per game (2.2). Only Varane, Benjamin Pavard, Samuel Umtiti and Steven N’Zonzi made more blocks (0.2).

His 1.5 key passes per game led France (Thomas Lemar and Djibril Sidibe made more but only played one game) while only the mazy Mbappe embarked on more dribbles (1.3) per game.

His marauding runs ensured he was fouled on average 2.8 times per game, more than any team-mate, including the fleet of foot Mbappe and Griezmann.

Contrast that with his woes with United last term. Only his statistic of 2.8 dribbles per game registered as superior to his exploits with Les Bleus this summer.

His 1.2 tackles, zero blocks, 1.4 key passes and 1.9 times fouled per game all contributed to a difficult second campaign with his new, old club.

But with the World Cup won, hope abounds that United will get this version of Pogba back for the new season as they look to bridge the gap to rivals City.

They recorded best tallies of points, wins and goals scored and conceded since Sir Alex Ferguson retired last season – yet the 19-point gap to the blues across Manchester was the largest in the Premier League era.

United fans and Mourinho should be buoyed by their star man’s shimmering form for his country this summer. If it can be converted from French blue to United Red, they will be in with a shout of closing the divide.

Even Roy Keane, one of Pogba and United’s fiercest critics, was full of praise after the final. “I don’t mind Pogba dancing now. He’s entitled to it,” said the Irishman.

Pogba, predictably, brought out his signature dab celebration in the aftermath of France’s triumph. It is now time for him to dabble in being the complete and dominant midfielder he has always promised to become.

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World Cup victory evokes memories of France '98 for Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps

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Celebration: Didier Deschamps.

France manager Didier Deschamps described his delirious World Cup-winning squad as “a little mad” after they celebrated their victory over Croatia in the final by gatecrashing his press conference.

A 4-2 win over Croatia at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium earned Deschamps access to one of football’s most elite clubs, those who have lifted the World Cup as both competitor and coach.

Only Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and Brazil’s Mario Zagallo have managed the same feat, but neither marked the moment with quite the same outpouring or joy.

As he prepared to begin his post-match media conference Deschamps was mobbed by a conga line of players chanting his name and dousing him with beer and champagne.

He was hugged, squeezed, jostled and cajoled by the young, diverse and talented team he has led to the summit of the sport and he did not attempt to stop them for a moment.

“They are a little crazy, they have always been a little mad,” he said with the broadest of smiles.

“They are young and they are happy.”

At 49 Deschamps cannot claim to be young, but he could hardly conceal his happiness.

“I don’t really like to talk about myself but I am forced to a little bit. I had the immense pleasure and privilege to live through this as a player 20 years ago. It is marked in my memory forever,” he said.

“But what the players did today is just as beautiful and just as strong. I have a son who is 22 and he was too young when we were world champion, now young people are living through this.

“At the moment my players don’t really know what it is to be world champions but I told them two things.

“That these 23 players are linked forever: they may follow different paths but they are marked together by this event. And that they are going to be different now. They are not the same, they are world champions.

“Maybe they will win other titles but there is nothing above world champions.”

The #WorldCup carrier! 🏆🏆

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France were not perfect en route to the title, arguably being outplayed in the first half despite heading to the tunnel 2-1 up after a Mario Mandzukic own-goal and a debatable penalty from man-of-the-match Antoine Griezmann.

They ensured they left as worthy winners, though, adding fine strikes from Paul Pogba and young player of the tournament Kylian Mbappe against a goalkeeping aberration from Hugo Lloris.

Deschamps expects more big things from Mbappe, marked by all and sundry as a once-in-a-generation talent, in the future but knows nothing is guaranteed in international football.

“Mbappe is only 19, I hope is a champion again, but 20 years ago David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry were only maybe 19 and they’d become champions again,” said Deschamps.

Pele is certainly impressed by the Paris St Germain man, who became the first teenager to score in a World Cup final since the Brazil great in 1958, saying on Twitter: “If Kylian keeps equalling my records like this I may have to dust my boots off again…”

Croatia boss Zlatko Dalic gave a comparatively sombre address and there were no player break-ins or group singalongs for the runners-up.

But he cut a magnanimous figure, refusing to focus on the controversial decision, using VAR, to award a spot-kick against Ivan Perisic for a handball.

He disagreed, as did many observers, but did not linger.

“I never comment on refereeing but let me say one sentence: in the World Cup final you do not give such a penalty,” said Dalic.

“That in no way diminishes France’s win but maybe we were a bit unlucky. In the first six games we may have been favoured by luck, today not.

“I respect the referee, he gave what he saw fair and square. VAR when it goes in your favour is good, when it doesn’t it’s bad.”

His captain Luka Modric at least had the consolation of taking home the Golden Ball for the tournament’s best player, although the pain of defeat lingered.

The Real Madrid man said: “I think we were the better team but sometimes better teams don’t win.”

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Hazard, Mbappe and other World Cup stars who could be on the move this summer

Matt Jones 16/07/2018
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The World Cup might well be over but the fallout from the tournament will now begin in earnest as some of the stars on show in Russia will surely be earning big money club moves after a stellar month.

With the European club season just a few weeks away in some domestic leagues, the next few weeks are sure to be a hive of frenzied activity as clubs and players alike look to get a myriad of deals completed.

Here are a few of the stars of the World Cup that could well be on the move following magnificent performances this summer:

NEYMAR

Mixed fortunes in Russia: Neymar.

With Cristiano Ronaldo having now turned his attentions to Turin, Real Madrid are certain to make some monster moves in the transfer market this summer.

He may have attracted more attention for his histrionics and haircuts rather than his heroics with Brazil, but if there’s one player Madrid would want to bring in the same summer Ronaldo leaves, there’s probably only one man who fits the bill.

Real appear to be chasing Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Harry Kane and Eden Hazard so it could be a manic few weeks in the Spanish capital.

The rumours are flying that Neymar is far from happy in the sedate environment of Ligue 1, despite raking in the money, and Los Blancos might well be ready to pull the trigger.

Chances of it happening: 6/10

KYLIAN MBAPPE

World Cup winner: Kylian Mbappe.

With the possibility of Neymar moving on from the French capital, it seems unthinkable to believe another of their gems may leave, but after a coming of age tournament, it may be time for Mbappe to come to his senses.

His stock has been on the rise since a breakthrough 2016/17 season for Monaco but the precarious and protracted nature of his two-year loan deal at PSG might be a deciding factor, with the French giants facing FIFA financial fair play issues.

A number of standout performances for France at the World Cup saw Mbappe score four goals and earn the Best Young Player award, meaning Real President Florentino Perez may feel he needs to act now.

Chances of it happening: 4/10

 

EDEN HAZARD

Strong tournament: Eden Hazard.

Four man of the match awards in Russia – including a devastating performance as Belgium surpassed the class of ’86 by beating England in the third-place play-off to earn their best-ever World Cup finish.

The attacking midfielder was rampant for the Red Devils in Russia – including a starring role in Belgium’s brilliant quarter-final win over Brazil.

This came following a mediocre season with Chelsea. Hazard basically issued a ‘come and get me’ plea to suitors, including Real, when he said after the England victory: “I’ve spent six years in England. I played a good World Cup. In the future you never know what’s going to happen.”

Chances of it happening: 9/10

THIBAUT COURTOIS

Heading back to the Spanish capital?

Another Belgian heading out of Chelsea appears to be goalkeeper Courtois, whose brilliant World Cup should only serve to speed up his Stamford Bridge exit.

And he could follow Hazard to the Santiago Bernabeu, having been linked to Los Blancos for a number of years.

Courtois spent three years in Madrid on loan at Atletico in his early Chelsea days and has already stated his desire to return given he has family in the city.

The 26-year-old was outstanding in Belgium’s last eight win over Brazil, with HLN journalist Kristof Terreur claiming Madrid and Chelsea have been locked in discussions over recent weeks.

Chances of it happening: 8/10

HIRVING LOZANO

Breakout star: Hirving Lozano.

Lozano introduced himself to the global stage in stunning style with a winning goal as Mexico shocked reigning champions Germany 1-0 in their opening Group E encounter.

He’d served notice of his talent in the lead-up to the tournament with a stunning debut season in the Netherlands – where his 17 goals and eight assists placed him fourth and sixth highest respectively.

The 22-year-old arrived in PSV Eindhoven from Pachuca 12 months ago but may not be lying low in Holland for long.

Manchester United have been linked to Lozano as a cheaper wide option after reportedly turning down the chance to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford.

United would be both filling a current need and looking to the future, with a reported £35.4m fee leaving space in the budget to address some other areas.

Chances of it happening: 7/10

N’GOLO KANTE

Marathon man: N’Golo Kante.

Luka Modric and Kylian Mbappe were the frontrunners for the World Cup’s Golden Ball – but if it were awarded on sheer importance to their countries, N’Golo Kante would have been in the running.

The tenacious and tireless midfielder has been outstanding for Les Bleus this summer, but his performances predictably go under the radar.

But it seems not everyone is unaware of his displays, with Barcelona believed to be trying to engineer a move after seeing Andres Iniesta head into retirement and Paulinho return to China.

A stunning swap deal could be on the cards with the Blaugrana preparing an offer of cash plus Andre Gomes to pry the 27-year-old from Stamford Bridge.

Chances of it happening: 6/10

 

HARRY MAGUIRE

Defensive powerhouse: Harry Maguire.

Everyone knew Harry was going to be important for England at this World Cup, but no-one would have predicted Maguire to outshine Kane.

The Spurs striker netted six goals to become the first England player in 32 years to win the World Cup’s Golden Boot – but it is the Leicester City centre-back who has been the bedrock of England’s surprising success.

Maguire was outstanding in Russia and capped a fine tournament with the crucial opening goal in the quarter-final win over Sweden.

The £17million fee the Foxes shelled out for him last summer from Hull City now seems a bargain, and with Man United reportedly circling with a £50m bid, the Foxes will be torn over tying him down to a new deal or cashing in.

Chances of it happening: 6/10

IVAN PERISIC

Found form in World Cup: Ivan Perisic.

After coming to life for Croatia in the knockout stages of the World Cup, talk of Perisic to Man United has been rekindled.

He had an understated opening to the tournament after shining once again for Inter Milan in Serie A last season, but came to life in the semi-final with the equalising goal against England.

He was again in the mix in the final with a stunning equaliser to make it 1-1.

Was said to be close to a move to Old Trafford a year ago only for the Nerazzuri to block it, which led to friction at the San Siro.

French media believe a deal is back on, but they appear more interested in what any move could mean for Anthony Martial’s future.

Chances of it happening: 7/10

MARCELO BROZOVIC

Ready for a move? Marcelo Brozovic.

The 25-year-old has been linked to Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla and AC Milan over the summer – and their interest would not have waned whatsoever after a raft of stellar showings for the Vatreni.

His presence at the base of their midfield two in Zlatko Dalic’s 4-2-3-1 formation allowed Luka Modric’s creative genius to flow – with Dalic quickly bringing the Inter Milan man back into the fold after leaving him out as they struggled in the quarter-final against Russia, with Brozovic on the bench.

Brozovic is open to leaving the San Siro for the Premier League this summer, according to his agent, but any potential suitors would have to activate his release clause. An offer of €50 million would force the Italian giants to sell.

Chances of it happening: 6/10

SERGEJ MILINKOVIC-SAVIC

Hot prospect: Milinkovic-Savic.

The much-sought after midfielder showed flashes of talent in Russia, but Serbia’s elimination from the groups stages cut short our chances of seeing the Lazio man in full flow.

He remains one of the hottest prospects across Europe though, after a series of impressive displays in Serie A over the past couple of seasons, including an exceptional return of 14 goals and nine assists in 48 appearances across all competitions last term.

Real have been the one side making the initial overtures this summer, reportedly putting together a €135 million package, although Lazio will hold out for €150m.

Chances of it happening: 8/10

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