There was a viral video on Wednesday that sums up Paul Pogba’s career so far. During France's game, Moussa Sissoko was battling three Finland players to retain the ball in his own half while Pogba stood around, looking aloof.
The Tottenham midfielder was eventually hounded off the ball, with Marcus Forss going on to score the opening goal for Finland. It went from bad to worse when Onni Valakari made it 2-0 for the visitors in Paris.
As France manager Didier Deschamps watched on from the bench in frustration, he must have been wondering what was going on with his players. France’s starting line-up surely wasn’t at fault.
Deschamps may not have named his best XI, but the team on the pitch should have been able to win this game. No disrespect to their opponents, but this was Finland and not England or Brazil.
Les Blues started the game with some new faces, including Kurt Zouma, Marcus Thuram, Wissam Ben Yedder and Leo Dubois. The most experienced players on the pitch, for France however, were Olivier Giroud and Pogba.
Of the two, the Manchester United midfielder was expected to have a bigger impact on the game. Unfortunately, one couldn’t tell the difference in the performances of Pogba and debutant Thuram.
The former Juventus midfielder hasn’t made a great start to the season and is currently struggling to break into an average Manchester United midfield. Despite his enormous talent, he’s currently being kept out of the team by Scott McTominay and Fred.
But despite all his troubles, he has always found some respite when he’s with the France national team. After all, that is where he plays well and feels more comfortable.
Pogba’s performance against Finland, though, puts him in the spotlight again. There is no doubt about his talent but questions about his desire and attitude are justified, especially when he only plays well when the entire team is playing well.
For a player of his quality, Pogba is expected to raise the performances of the France national team when things get tough on the pitch. Instead, he goes missing in tough games just like other average players.
The difference between Pogba and other top midfielders like Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Jordan Henderson and N’Golo Kante is that they step up when the going gets tough. France manager Didier Deschamps feels that his Pogba's development at club level is affecting his rhythm.
"I know Paul well and he knows the squad well. He finds himself in a situation with his club that he can't be happy about, neither in terms of his playing time nor his position," Deschamps told France Football, ahead of the Finland game.
"He's not at his best, he's had a string of injuries and COVID-19 has also affected him adversely. He needs to rediscover his rhythm. He did well in the matches that he was involved in last month and performed consistently despite his lack of rhythm. Nevertheless, we can't say that he's blossoming at club level.”
If after four and a half years, we are still discussing Pogba's best position, then there’s definitely something wrong. At Manchester United, he’s been played in almost every position but he hasn’t maintained the consistency required.
His poor showing for France against Finland shows that he is a system player who only blossoms when the team is in good form. However, when things get tough, Pogba simply lacks the attitude and desire to bail his team out.Published 12 Nov 2020, 14:23 IST