A fantastic year at the centre of everything for Juventus sees Paul Pogba edge out a plethora of wing talent as Young Player of the Season, writes Jeremy Lim.
It’s marvellous to see how much Paul Pogba has come on since joining Juventus. Initially nothing more than a mere prospect when he moved to Turin in 2012, he has burst out of his shell, with Coach Antonio Conte beginning to place increasing faith in his abilities.
Unlike at former club Manchester United, the French midfielder’s gifts were not lost on his new teammates and Coach at Vinovo. “Within two months, two-and-a-half months we had already figured out his talent,” Gianluigi Buffon recalled upon witnessing Pogba’s quality first-hand in training. “Paul is an undeniable talent, a natural talent, a force of nature. He is a guy who has surprised everyone, that has exploded, not even in a lot of time.”
His first year in Turin coincided with a second Scudetto under Conte, secured in no small part thanks to his amazing strikes against Napoli and Udinese plus his overall contribution. Bianconeri fans simply could not believe their luck at unearthing such a gem. The club had just been given a taste of what he was capable of when, this term, that raw ability has been transformed into brilliant end product.
Promoted by Conte to the role of mainstay owing to Claudio Marchisio’s early injury, Pogba took the opportunity to really leave his imprint on the recent campaign. Dull games calling for the finishing touch to be applied, or the final ball to be delivered, were answered with aplomb. A tactical mind, the Parisian still managed to bring spontaneity, variety and expressiveness to the engine room. Such has been his impact that he leads established stars like Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez in the club’s appearances and assists charts.
The youngster boasts the assurance and composure to showcase his full repertoire of skills and deliver results in spite of his tender age. Few things can draw a crowd like his awesome ability to find the net from speculative distances, such as that volleyed thunderbolt past Pepe Reina last November. In total, the winners scored against Torino, Parma and Bologna in 2013-14 equalled a nine point contribution to Juventus’ record haul of 102 - combine that with his multiple assists, and it adds up to a year of fantastic return for Pogba.
There were reminders that the player is still not the finished article at 21, as he fought the effects of burnout in February and March. He is nevertheless admirably coming to terms with life as a pro though. “It was a difficult time because I was getting tired, I was not at the top, not as efficient as at the beginning. But I also know that the biggest names in football have been there,” Pogba admitted.
Sure enough, he got back his physical clout as Juventus embarked on their final sprint to clinch a deserved third Scudetto - not a moment too soon too, with Pogba tipped to play a starring role under Didier Deschamps for France at the World Cup. There in Brazil, he could be adding football’s greatest prize to his growing medal collection.
Such first-rate credentials at a prodigious age have only led to the freight train line of suitors expanding. Still, he’s continuously focused on his football only, as his words often provide the lone voice of reason. And that has meant staying put at the Bianconeri, where he can continue his development in serenity: “‘Pogba is going here, Pogba is going there’, whereas I said nothing. I have not even talked to my club about anything and there is nothing.”
With a contract extension believed to be in the works, expect the rising star to remain the poster boy for what talented youngsters in Serie A can really begin aspiring to.
Juan Iturbe - The ‘Juan’ christened as ‘the new Messi’ enjoyed a breakout campaign as his eight goals and partnership with Luca Toni almost led Verona to Europa League qualification.
Domenico Berardi - Co-owned by Juventus and Sassuolo, the 19-year-old’s exciting wing play saw him rack up goals galore to keep the latter afloat. He is also the first player to ever have netted four League goals against Milan.
Mattia Perin - The goalkeeper’s natural athleticism and superb decision making skills saw him keep 10 clean sheets for Genoa, earning him a place in Italy’s provisional World Cup squad.
Keita Balde Diao - A product of Barcelona’s academy, Balde’s energetic runs down the wing, coupled with an instinctive ability to find space, saw him net five goals.
Mauro Icardi - The Argentine created as much trouble for opposition rearguards as he did on social media. His intelligent movement and clinical finishing helped Inter back into Europe for next season.