As the World Cup draws to a close and teams, players, coaches, pundits & fans alike reflect on what was and what could have been, we at Outside of the Boot under our Talent Radar feature recognise the best young players at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The eligibility criteria for this list are all those players who were 21 and below at the start of the 2013/14 season (taken as June 1st 2013).
What was expected of him? Pogba is by no means a new face to Talent Radar and having seen him appear for Juventus over 60 times since his transfer in 2012, we have witnessed the Frenchman put out dominating displays in midfield. Pogba was entrusted to carry his maturity to the World Cup after being named in the squad by Deschamps and expected to be a characteristic part of the French midfield.
How did he perform? France’s World Cup campaign kicked off with a Group E fixture against Honduras which the French won 3-0 with the help of a red card in the 43rd minute. Pogba was a component of the first row of midfield along with Cabaye and Matuidi. Being placed on the right side of the three, Pogba’s primary offensive role was to be the link between Cabaye, who would drop deep between the centre backs to pick up the ball, and Valbuena along with the overlapping Debuchy. Pogba was involved in the incident resulting in the red card: Palacios’ barge in Pogba’s back was enough for the referee to give him his marching orders. The game tilted towards France after the first half and with a man extra, Pogba was able to put in his usual shift where his composure and ability to pick out a pass and control the game was seen.
The next game saw France take on Switzerland, a match that saw the Swiss fail to get a grasp on what was going on in the 90 minutes that was played. Pogba was left on the bench for this one, replaced by Sissoko on the right. After France were 3-0 up, Dechamps decided to ease the game and see it through by taking off Giroud and throwing in Pogba. Although France’s work was done and dusted, Pogba chose to go a little further. Four minutes after entering the pitch, a Pogba through ball with the Outside of the Boot resulted in an assist for Benzema’s second goal of the night.
France’s final game in the 2014 group stages was a goalless encounter against Ecuador. In a well contested clash, Pogba was kept busy more often than not, in midfield. He was once again placed on the right side of the midfield, with Sissoko ahead of him and Sagna on the overlap. Pogba’s aerial abilities were witnessed in the first half when Griezmann’s corner was met by him, leading to a header that was directed towards goal, only to be denied by Dominguez’s fingertips. Pogba had a shot which was certain to hit the back of the net in the second half from about 20 yards out but was superbly blocked. A powerful run through quite a distance in midfield as well as another aerial effort later in the game proved once again what the fuss about this lad is.
The next game against Nigeria saw Pogba earn the man of the match award. The game saw him put in what was his most impressive performance throughout the tournament. Midway through the first half, Pogba was seen bringing the ball from midfield to the final third before slipping it to Valbuena who played it back to Pogba and the ex-United man connected with a text book volley only to be denied by Enyeama’s quick and powerful save. The right side of the French team saw good link up later on in the first half, with Pogba, Valbuena and Debuchy combining only to have a disappointing finish. Pogba broke the deadlock in the 79th minute after heading into an unprotected net from a corner.
The final game of France’s campaign was against eventual champions, Germany. Coming up against a quality midfield, Pogba was fairly preoccupied throughout the match having to be weary of Muller, whose movement off the ball is world class and a slightly late run from Kroos. His involvement in the attacking third was not much as France, just like Germany, were a bit cautious in their play with the intention of preventing a mistake from happening.
Pogba’s World Cup campaign showed that he is well capable of playing at a big stage. Upon observing his play, qualities such as physicality, composure, control, technique and maturity all spring to mind. For a player this young, it’s quite spectacular to watch. As the tournament drew to a close, Pogba given the Hyundai Young Player Award for his performances, ahead of the nominated Depay and fellow countryman, Varane. Two of the parameters involved in judging a player for this award was ‘Exceptional level of skill’ and ‘Tactical maturity and effectiveness’, which Pogba has proved quite often are qualities he possesses.
More from Talent Radar: Pogba placed #4 on Outside of the Boot’s list of 25 Young Players to Watch at the FIFA World Cup 2014. He also featured in Talent Radar’s Serie A 2013/14 Youngsters Team of the Season as well as in Best Young Players Team of the Week in the third week of April. Pogba is also at #2 in the midfielder’s category in the list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch out for in 2014.
What does the future hold for him in the national team? The qualities that Pogba brings to the French midfield at this young age are well enough to predict that Pogba’s role in the future French squads is massive. Having got a taste of the big stage via the World Cup and now knowing at this age the pressure and the expectations that lay before him, Pogba is likely to be seasoned well enough in the years to come to be a big part of the next generation of players to represent France.
Other players in the list: #10 Memphis Depay | #9 Ahmed Musa | #8 Xherdan Shaqiri | #6 Kevin De Bruyne | #5 Joel Campbell | #4 Ricardo Rodriguez | #3 Raphael Varane | #2 Neymar | #1 James Rodriguez
Razim Refai is a co-founder and editor of Outside of the Boot.
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