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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

World Cup Winning Reds: Ten players have won the World Cup and played for Manchester United

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is due to kick off next week in Russia, with the hosts taking on Saudi Arabia next Thursday in the opening match. This year’s tournament will see 11 Manchester United players represent their national sides, but who are the 10 players, from years gone by that have both picked up the famous trophy and pulled on a United shirt?

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Sir Bobby Charlton – England 1966

First up, it is, of course, Sir Bobby Charlton, a true club legend and an embodiment to many of what it means to be a Manchester United player. Charlton first joined the United ranks as an apprentice in 1953, from there the Englishman went on to make a stunning 758 first team appearances for the reds, second only to Ryan Giggs who made 963. Charlton is also United’s second highest ever goalscorer, netting a staggering 249 goals, a record recently broken by Wayne Rooney who ended his United carer on 253 goals. Charlton spent 20 years at United as a player, winning countless trophies, including three first team division titles, an FA Cup, four FA Charity Shields and a European Cup. Charlton did not only have an extremely successful club carer but also an extremely successful international one and was part of the England Team that won the 1966 World Cup, something not many Englishman can boast about.

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Nobby Stiles – England 1966

Next up its Nobby Stiles, an Englishman who can boast about being a World Cup winner and who like Charlton was part of the England side that won the 1966 World Cup. Although Stiles was not just a star with England but also with Manchester United, spending 11 years at Old Trafford between 1960 and 1971. Playing mainly as a holding midfielder, Stiles was a regular in the team throughout the 1960s, making 395 appearances for Reds and helping led United to European Cup glory in 1968.

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John Connelly – England 1966

John Connelly is one of only three Englishman that can say they won a World Cup and pulled on a Manchester United shirt. Connelly spent just two seasons at Old Trafford, playing predominately as an outside forward, Connelly scored 35 goals for United in 135 appearances and helped United clinch the 1964/65 Division One title.

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Fabien Barthez – France 1998

A World Cup winner with France in 1998, Fabien Barthez is perhaps one of the most iconic and recognisable goalkeepers in recent times. Barthez’s success internationally and winning mentally impressed Sir Alex Ferguson who signed up the Frenchman in May 2000. United’s new eccentric goalkeeper had an excellent first season at the club, making several key saves as United won their third Premier League title in a row. However, the rest of Barthez’s time at Old Trafford was very up and down with the Frenchman struggling for consistency. After a patch of poor form, Barthez, lost his place in the team and returned back to Marseille after almost four years at United, regardless the eccentric keeper will live long in the minds of the United faithful.

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Laurent Blanc – France 1998

Laurent Blanc was part of the France team that won the World Cup in 1998, playing alongside Barthez not only with the French National side but also at Manchester United. After several years of trying to coax the defender in to joining him at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson finally succeeded ahead of the 2001/02 season, with Blanc signing for United. Now at the age of 35, the Frenchman intentional struggled for form in the first half of the season, with many critics claiming Blanc was passed his best. Despite the difficult start to life at Old Trafford, Blanc proved his doubters wrong and his form improved drastically, earning himself a further year at Old Trafford. The following season would be Blanc’s last with the French defender deciding to retire, but his contribution was more than adequate with United winning back the Premier League title.

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Kleberson –  Brazil 2002

Up next, it’s Kleberson, who was part of the Brazil squad that won the 2002 World Cup. Kleberson was hailed by the then Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari as the driving force behind the team’s World Cup success, and his success at international level made him a transfer target for many European clubs. It was Manchester United in the end that landed the Brazilian, with him singing for the club in August 2003. However sadly on his second appearance for the club, Kleberson picked up an injury and from then on struggled to make a real impact at the club. Going on to score only two goals and make only 20 appearances over two seasons at Old Trafford, before being sold to Turkish side Besiktas in 2005.

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Gerard Pique – Spain 2010

Gerard Pique was a key player for Spain at the 2010 World Cup and started all seven games as Spain went on to win the tournament. However long before lifting the famous trophy Pique played for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. Joining from the Barcelona youth set up in 2004, Pique made his debut that season, coming off the bench to replace John O’Shea as United beat Crewe Alexandra 3-0 away in the League Cup. In order to get more first team football, Pique was loaned out to La Liga side Real Zaragoza ahead of the 2006/07 season. Pique returned from his loan ahead of the 2007/08 season and went on to manage only nine league appearances for the reds, before returning to Barcelona the following season. Going on to become a truly world-class centre-back and reaming to this day a regular in the Barcelona back line.

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Juan Mata – Spain 2010

Juan Mata, was part of the Spain team that won the 2010 World Cup and is currently the only World Cup winner that plays for Manchester United. After falling out of favour at Chelsea, Mata was allowed to leave and the door opened for David Moyes to sign up the Spaniard, and he joined for a then club record fee of £37.1 million. Since then Mata has been an important player for Manchester United, and in four and half seasons has made 186 first team appearances for the club, netting 39 times. With Mata still remaining a popular figure amongst the fan base and a reliable attacking option for Jose Mourinho and the team.

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Victor Valdes – Spain 2010

Victor Valdes is the third member of the Spanish Trio that has won the World Cup and pulled on a United shirt, and along with Pique and Mata was part of the Spain side that won the 2010 World Cup. After being invited to train with the first team in the first half of the 2014/15 season, Valdes signed an 18-month contract with Manchester United in January 2015. Still coming back for an injury Valdes, only featured twice for the reds that season, before falling out with then-United manager Louis van Gaal the following summer. This resulted in Valdes being placed on the transfer list and despite reaming at Old Trafford the following season, Valdes never played for the first team again.

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Bastian Schweinsteiger – Germany 2014

Last up its Bastian Schweinsteiger, who played an instrumental part in Germany’s World Cup success at Brazil 2014. A year later, Schweinsteiger found himself signing for Manchester United becoming the first ever German player to feature in the United first team. Signed by Louis van Gaal ahead of the 2015/16 season, Schweinsteiger added some great experience to the United midfield and went on to make 31 appearances in his debut season helping led United to FA Cup glory. However, after the arrival of current United manager Jose Mourinho, Schweinsteiger found himself surplus to requirements. Making only four appearances, before being allowed to move to MLS side Chicago Fire in March 2017.

Written by Jamie Mackinlay

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