Best Young Player Paul Pogba reinforced rather than enhanced his reputation at the 2014 World Cup, says Luca Persico.
Paul Pogba’s transition from promising youngster to world-renowned talent had been completed long before he stepped on to the pitch to make his World Cup debut against Honduras at the Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre.
His energetic, all-action approach at the heart of a Juventus side that has dominated Serie A had already made him one of Europe’s most desired midfielders. Being handed the Hyundai Young Player Award at the close of Brazil ’14 simply confirms Pogba’s stature.
Such is the reputation of the 21-year-old, it would not be unfair to suggest that he perhaps could have given more in South America.
His decisive header and man of the match performance in the Round of 16 victory against Nigeria was the highlight of a mixed tournament that could have gone very differently had referee Sandro Ricci dismissed him for a kick-out at Wilson Palacios in France’s opening 3-0 win over Honduras.
That lack of discipline has occasionally caught out Pogba - see his red card for France in the qualifying defeat to Spain or dismissal for spitting at Palermo’s Salvatore Aronica - and saw him demoted to the bench by Coach Didier Deschamps.
As a result, he played just 27 minutes in the 5-2 win against Switzerland, but still managed to assist Karim Benzema for France’s fourth. Pogba was then restored to the startling line for a 0-0 draw with Ecuador and went on to play 90 minutes in the win over Nigeria and decisive defeat to Germany. That latter tie will be of particular frustration to the Lagny-sur-Marne native, who was on the periphery for much of the contest.
Pogba leaves the World Cup with his reputation perhaps not enhanced, but reinforced. The same could also be said of teammate Raphael Varane. The Real Madrid stopper was another nominee for the Young Player Award. He started four of France’s five matches and though assured and composed, he was out jumped by Mats Hummels for the only goal in the 1-0 loss against Germany.
FIFA’s decision to limit the award to players born on or after January 1, 1993 ensured there was a limited pool of eligible candidates and no one outstanding choice. Their third nominee, Netherlands’ Memphis Depay, for example, scored important goals against Australia and Chile, but only started one match.
Perhaps, a more fitting selection would have been Belgium forward Divock Origi. He arrived at the tournament as a relative unknown, but came to the fore with a well-taken winner against Russia and managed to displace Romelu Lukaku.
Others who deserve a mention are Uruguay’s Jose Maria Gimenez, Kenneth Omeruo, DeAndre Yedlin, Raheem Sterling and Nabil Bentaleb, who all impressed for their respective nations, but suffered from early exits.
Ultimately, it is another accolade for Pogba. In the last 12 months he has captained France U-20s to a World Cup - and won the Golden Ball for that tournament - been named the Golden Boy and added a second Scudetto with Juventus.
With this latest award, he follows in the footsteps of great names such as Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Antonio Cabrini and Marc Overmars, who are previous winners.
Pogba may not have shone, but it is another step towards the very top for this astonishingly talented midfielder.