The deck – “The pickaxe”, as Pogba is known after the nickname was given to him by the fans of Juventus – is definitely the boss of the France team. He is the leader, the joker, the guide, but also both a captain and a soldier who sets an example. When he’s not there, there’s a hole no one can really fill. When he’s there, like the last 10 days, there is a very special energy and atmosphere within the team.
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Pogba is a breath of fresh air for France; and the reverse is also very true, as France have always been a breath of fresh air for Pogba when things aren’t going well with his club.
In the midst of his war with Jose Mourinho, returning home in March 2018 for the matches against Colombia and Russia was a huge boost. After seeing his friends again, after a long conversation with Didier Deschamps, Pogba returned to England with a more positive mentality and with the goal of ending the season in style – which he did. He earned his place in the United States’ starting XI, played well, and then was instrumental in Blues“World Cup triumph in Russia this summer.
This time it was United’s poor start to the season and criticism surrounding their level, especially in the humiliating 6-1 loss to Tottenham Hotspur that he wanted to put behind him.
He therefore recovered his room at Clairefontaine; Eduardo Camavinga borrowed it in September, but the boss got it back. It’s the largest room, and every night it’s full of people listening to music, playing video games, or chatting about anything and everything.
Pogba also resumed his place in the locker room next to … Antoine Griezmann.
The pair picked up their bromance where it had left off 16 months earlier. They’ve spent so much time together it’s unreal. Pogba traveled to Croatia next to Kurt Zouma on the plane on Tuesday – so they could play Ludo – but the rest of the time he’s with Grizou.
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Pogba was the best player on the pitch in the second half of the goalless draw with Portugal on Sunday, when Deschamps was delighted to see him in this form.
The head coach knows how difficult last year was for the midfielder. He telephoned Pogba often during the injury; he watched the player’s disappointing start to the season with United and struggling Pogba at times; he heard the critics. Perhaps that is why Deschamps was even closer to Pogba during this international window. “DD” wanted “PP” to really feel at home, and take advantage of the 10 days to start his season.
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“I thought he was good against Portugal, even better in the second half, in terms of his pace, his size,” Deschamps said after the match.
“I got a good Paul. He is not always there to score or give assists. He’s very active, and technically he was good too. ”
Pogba was certainly happy with his performance, especially after the break, as Deschamps pointed out.
The midfielder has worked hard during this international break to get sharper and fitter upon his return to Manchester. He’s played a lot, with three games in seven days: 30 minutes in the 7-1 win over Ukraine; 90 three days later against Portugal; and he will resume the UEFA Nations League game against Croatia in Zagreb on Wednesday, when he wins his 72nd cap at just 27 years old. He is on the way to overtake Lilian Thuram as France’s most capped player; Thuram won 142 caps, but he was only 46 at Pogba’s current age.
When Pogba returns to Manchester on Thursday, United will have a refreshed and revitalized player – which is exactly the impact the club were hoping to see from his return to France.
The club, meanwhile, can’t be bothered by Pogba for mentioning (again) that his dream is to play for Real Madrid one day.
First, he waits for a sign from Ed Woodward and the club; he loves United, Old Trafford and his life in Manchester.
But his line on Zinedine Zidane and Madrid is also a good sign, because it’s when he’s happy that he gives him the best answers. And the best performance.
United are hopeful he is happy, ready and eager to go against Newcastle United on Saturday.