Watching ITV’s half time closing sequence a Paul Pogba caricature looked smooth and sophisticated. Yet some 44 minutes earlier his clumsy clattering of Shane Long had gifted Republic of Ireland a dream start as Robbie Brady dispatched the penalty. The host nation down a goal at half time with the lion share of the blame placed fairly on their talisman’s shoulders.
If Pogba is the poster boy for France and Euro 2016 it would be a black & white one with “WANTED” written directly underneath it. Alas more villain than hero for Didier Deschamps so far. Pogba’s road to true superstardom yet again encountered more road works and diversions. Outshone by Dimitri Payet in the opening game (and the group stages as a whole) prompting his benching for their second group fixture. Rescued by Antoine Griezmann after his gaffe it was the Juventus star that truly had the Luck of the Irish.
All the omens pointed to Pogba lighting the tournament up like those who have gone before him. A Juventus player making a European Championship in his native land his tournament. Peak Michel Platini inspired hosts France to victory in 1984 and Zinedine Zidane was crowned Player of the Tournament at Euro 2000 as he lead the national side to European glory in Rotterdam. Pogba would complete the trifecta or so he would in the eyes of the world.
The narrative seemed to perfect and unfortunately it is proving that sometimes we can’t have nice things. Pogba to his credit did recover well from his ham-fisted challenge against Ireland making a series of quality touches, passes and turns. It was a glimmer of what the boy wonder can do and why he is so lauded in world football. But only a glimmer. The casual fan, the fan who does not follow Serie A so closely is waiting to see what all the fuss about the powerful midfielder is about. Overrated is the diagnosis for the man mentioned in the same breath as Zidane and Platini.
Pogba’s tournament so far has been a classic case of trying too hard. The pressure on him is almost visible. Playing like a man who has literally been wrapped in cotton wool. We have been spun a tale of a player who is a world beater, has the ability and potential to be the greatest midfielder to ever play the game. A man who has the audacity to shave “Pogboom” into the side of his head is the mark of a man who has unshakable belief in himself yet he advances with trepidation – a player who knows Europe expects.
The former Manchester United prospect has been built up to dizzying heights. The favourite to be named player of the tournament before France raised the curtain on this summer’s football festival Pogba has slipped to 16/1 with the bookmakers. His team mate Payet yet again stealing his thunder being the new favouroite at 4/1. But the pain doesn’t stop there. After his quickfire brace against Republic of Ireland Griezmann takes his goal tally to three and is back in the hunt for the Golden Boot and buzz is building around the Atletico Madrid striker that he is peaking at the right moment to propel his country to third European Championship in just over two decades.
Pogba is slipping further down the pecking order for the role of ‘talisman’ in Deschamps’s side. Payet and Griezmann look set to duke it out for that moniker as a potential showdown with England beckons in the last eight.
However narrative is a funny old mistress and a superstar performance against Roy’s boys (should they navigate past Iceland that is) would not only be Sod’s Law in the eyes of England fans but would also catapult Pogba back into iconic status.
England fans have been burned all too often by young superstars in the shape of Cristiano Ronaldo (twice), Thomas Muller and Ronaldinho. While Wayne Rooney and company are all focusing on the task at hand against Iceland the tale turns it’s watchful eye towards a France vs England showdown with Pogba set to finally break free of his shackles.
They do say after laughter comes tears. We may be mocking Pogba’s hellish tournament thus far but he may still be the one to capture, then break, our hearts.