The latest in a line of French stars to turn out for Juventus, the pressure is on the 23-year-old before the competition, and he has set his own personal goals at a dizzying height.
There is no doubt as to the identity of who France are pinning their hopes on to lead them to Euro 2016 glory this summer. Just as Neymar was a ubiquitous figure in Brazil during World Cup 2014, Paul Pogba dominates television, radio and internet coverage in the host nation as it gears up to the start of this summer’s tournament, which will be welcomed in by Friday’s fixture against Romania.
Les Bleus have won each of the last two major competitions played on their home soil, during which their star men have become iconic figures thanks to their tournament-winning displays.
Michel Platini was their elegant No.10 as they stylishly won Euro ’84. Now a disgraced administrator, he was once the leader of an outstanding midfield quartet and during that competition he produced arguably his finest spell of form. During five games he scored nine times – a tally never matched by anyone in European Championship finals, including the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are both stuck on six, despite playing three tournaments.
More recently, of course, came Zidane’s heroics. When he headed France to World Cup glory in 1998, scoring the opening two goals in a 3-1 win over Brazil, it was the culmination of an outstanding competition for the playmaker, whose contribution made him a cultural icon in his homeland.
Now, it is left to Pogba to shoulder that expectation.
It will be a very different test for the 23-year-old, however. Platini and Zidane were at the zeniths of their respective careers at 29 and 28 respectively when they were asked to perform the same task. Pogba, the latest of a string of French greats to turn out for Juventus, on the other hand, is widely acknowledged to be a player still making his way to the very top of the game.
Euro 2016 provides the pedestal for him to proclaim his challenge to be considered one of the very best.
“His physique is impressive, he’s fast, very good technically, powerful,” international colleague Antoine Griezmann told Goal. “He has everything he needs to be a world-class player.”
Pogba, meanwhile, has set himself a more ambitious goal than simply becoming mere “world class”. Displaying the brash confidence that saw him storm out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at just 19, complaining of his lack of first team football, he is now seeking to revolutionise the central midfield position.
“I want to become the complete player,” he told ESPN. “I want to do everything: defend, attack, score, give assists, tackle, win back the ball. Be a leader on the field.
“I want to become a new midfielder. From defensive midfielder to attacking midfielder to attacker. I want to take the qualities from everyone.
“Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, everyone. Andres Iniesta. I’m serious. All players rolled into one. I’d like to get to the level where I have everything: Patrick Vieira, Didier Deschamps, Zidane, Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, Ronaldo. It wouldn’t be bad, that.
“I’ve already scored goals, given decisive passes, won back balls. It’s really just about raising the level.”
He proved Ferguson wrong to let him go; now his challenge is to live up to his own expectations. The bar is set at a seemingly impossibly height, but such tests simply provide fuel for the midfielder.
“It’s a pressure, but at the same time, it’s a pure joy to be able to play in front of our own people. That’s our strength this team,” he told The Times of India. “It would be great to entertain them with our performances.”
Pogba is a figure who thrives on the spotlight. A player for the YouTube generation, he is seemingly omnipresent on social media, whether it’s for a trick he’s pulled off during training, a stunning goal he’s scored during a game or simply for his ever-changing hair styles, it seems that the greater the challenge, the more relish he greets it with.
Perhaps now more than ever, with France ready to kick off their Euro 2016 campaign in his home city of Paris, the eyes of the world are on Pogba. And just as Platini and Zidane did before him, he is primed to shine.
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