Paul Pogba: Thriving At Juventus
Few thought that when Paul Pogba moved from Manchester United to Juventus he would have such an impact. While he may have been sent off yesterday as Juventus claimed the Serie A title, today on the blog Adam Digby tells us how Pogba's star has risen in Turin.
“I’ve been surprised at how well I’ve played and the impact I’ve made” – Paul Pogba, February 2013
Any football fan wondering why Paul Pogba has gone from barely used Manchester United reserve to first team regular at Juventus would do well to revisit his performance against Bologna, back in October. His first half display – one which included a disallowed goal, a shot which hit the post and a header which also narrowly missed – described by La Repubblica’s Diego Costa as ‘a hurricane against the Bologna defence!’ was merely a warning of what was to come.
Nine minutes after the restart, he carved open the visitors defence with a wonderfully chipped pass to Emmanuele Giaccherini who headed the ball across goal for Fabio Quagliarella to prod home the opener. Bologna would equalise but, as the game looked set to fade out, Pogba settled it with an emphatic headed winner, clinching all three points for the Bianconeri.
“Pogba beats Bologna 2-1," proclaimed Il Messaggero the next day, declaring the youngster the difference between the two sides and, looking back on a match in which he had added four tackles and six goal scoring opportunities for team-mates to that match winning goal, it was hard to disagree. He has since turned in some equally impressive performances and, when asked by Turin based newspaper Tuttosport what was behind his meteoric rise since leaving England, he said:
“There are not many differences compared to Manchester United as these are two of the most important clubs in the world. The difference here is that I feel appreciated, the players believe in me, the coach believes in me and I have the opportunity to play."
Defying The Skeptics
He has certainly seized his opportunity, despite his move initially being met with skepticism on all fronts. Too many quality players ahead of him in the squad, a Coach who has an apparent aversion to untested players, and doubts about taking a player represented by Mino Raiola were all identified as reasons why Paul Pogba’s move from Manchester United to Juventus last summer made little sense.
With Kwadwo Asamoah joining a team who regularly fielded Claudio Marchisio, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo the first issue was undoubtedly well founded. The struggles of Eljero Elia to even set foot on the pitch were highlighted as proof that Antonio Conte would never put his trust in a 19 year old who had played just over 200 minutes for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Having seen the manipulation of clubs, coaches and officials in gaining moves for players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli, doubts over the behaviour of Raiola will never go away but, almost a year on from his move to Turin, he has silenced them all. To see the now twenty year old in action is to witness something truly special.
Since making his debut for the Bianconeri in September, Pogba has made 20 starts, and a further fourteen substitute appearances, netting five goals, including the one in that stellar performance in the win over Bologna. His form has been so good that he has forced Conte into adapting his 3-5-2 system to a 3-5-1-1 with Pogba in midfield and Marchisio moving further forward.
That decision has been vindicated by displays which have pushed Juve to the brink of a second successive Serie A title and Pogba has played an important role. He is averaging 2.4 tackles, 1.4 interceptions and 1.3 clearances per game this season, numbers which prove his dedication and application to helping provide protection for the defence.
Application may well be the key term here, as we watch the youngster deliver on his clearly vast potential. As he has appeared – and thrived – in increasingly more high profile games, talk turned to what he had left behind. Constant referrals to the player Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson ‘lost’ began to surface yet, above anything, that does the Premier League Champions a huge disservice.
Simply put, the midfielder we see in those famous black and white stripes is not the player who left Old Trafford in July. He has transformed himself and showcased his abilities by working hard and dedicating himself to proving he deserves the reshuffle his form forced upon Conte. His first international caps for France followed, as coach Didier Deschamps realised could not afford to overlook the youngster.
Pogba is playing at a level he simply never reached in Manchester where, during 2011-12 he was an average player in the reserves. This is more than a matter of the English club missing his potential, this is a player recognizing and rectifying his previous mistakes. After seeing an aging Paul Scholes chosen ahead of him by Sir Alex Ferguson, Pogba accepted he must change his level of effort and focus.
He was a different, more professional athlete from the moment he arrived in Turin and it is incredible to consider that, in his twenty starts, Juventus have lost just twice. Those games were at home to Sampdoria and Bayern Munich, since the latter of which the Bianconeri have beaten Lazio, Milan and city rivals Torino without conceding a single goal. That most recent victory saw him win all six tackles and five aerial duels he contested, arguably the best player on the pitch in a hotly contested game.
Rising above the passion and putting in such an accomplished display, he once again defied his young age and made the concerns raised last summer seem almost laughable. He cannot be judged as Manchester United’s loss, yet he certainly is Juve’s gain. The Old Lady has found a young man who many will rightly covet.
You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77
And read more of his work at ESPN.com