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The World Cup provides Paul Pogba a chance to find form

When things get crazy in life, getting away from it all can be therapeutic and help to clear your mind. For Paul Pogba, escaping from the unwavering scrutiny of the English press after a turbulent season with Manchester United has been necessary and, supporters will hope, help to recapture the spark which previously defined his game.

Throughout the season Pogba came in for endless amounts of criticism, both justified and otherwise. Everything from his effort, work rate, attacking output, even his ever-changing hair stylings have been fair game.  

For most of his first year and a half at the club, Jose Mourinho went out of his way to defend him from these incessant attacks, but even his patience with the Frenchman wore thin this season. A public spat during a match against Tottenham Hotspur in which Pogba was subbed off for tactical reasons was followed by dropping him for a Champions League tie against Sevilla.

The Portuguese and Pogba were very much at odds with each other.

While Mourinho expected equal effort and execution from his star midfielder in both attack and defense, Pogba craved more creative freedom to express himself than he was being allowed. This tug of war between the two persisted through to the end of the season.

Even when United played in a midfield three, with Ander Herrera coming in to the side to give Pogba more license to get forward, the results were mixed. For every match-turning performance, like the one he delivered at the Etihad against Manchester City, there was an insipid one to match, like the shocking loss to bottom of the table West Bromwich Albion.

The manager himself came in for criticism, justifiably, but Pogba couldn’t escape censure either. Even his star turn against Pep Guardiola’s side was met with a certain mystified reaction; if Pogba was capable of such a dominant match-winning performance, why was it that the former eJuventus man failed to be that pivotal figure so often?

Even if the tactical approach of the manager could be questioned, surely Pogba himself wasn’t living up to billing on the pitch either. The inconsistency in his performances on the pitch has been difficult to understand. Given the fanfare of his arrival, the fee involved in bringing him to Old Trafford and his unquestionable talent much more was expected.

While United’s season won’t start until August, Pogba has a great chance to shut his critics up this summer at the World Cup. As one of the main stars in the French national team of whom much is expected, he has the opportunity to find the form which eluded him for much of this past season.

Playing for France is no walk in the park, though.

The lofty expectations from their supporters due to the incredible depth in talent at their disposal doesn’t lend itself to patience and understanding. Pogba was on the end of their disapproval when he was whistled off the pitch following a sub par outing in the team’s most recent friendly against Italy.

His teammates and manager Didier Deschamps, who called him “indispensable”, came to his defense in the aftermath of the match. However, Deschamps also said Pogba must “raise his level of play”. And therein lies the truth.

Pogba has all the talent in the world. He’s strong, eats up the yards with long strides, can hold defenders off, take a man on, score from distance and is equally capable of play raking cross-field passes, deft lobs over the top or penetrating through balls. He has all of that in abundance in his locker, but too often with United and now with France he has failed to put it together with any consistency.

There are periods of play where he looks disinterested and lacks discipline. Within the same match, he’s liable to have a stretch where he’s levels above everybody on the pitch and bossing it.

This summer, on the biggest stage in football, Pogba has a chance to showcase his talents. The price tag United paid for him doesn’t constantly hang over him on the international stage. There’s no manager whose overly pragmatic approach can be used to explain away any naive tactical mistakes. The quality of attack in front of him is indisputable.

The stage is set for Pogba to be the midfield maestro of a team with all the talent and potential to end as World Cup winners. With Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante alongside him to do all the dirty work, he’s in the free role as a chief creator he so craves.

It’s now up to him to string together the type of dominating performances he put together all too infrequently this year. If he can find form again, United may very well benefit when the Premier League season starts in August.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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