If fans looked closely last October they would have noticed a small ‘+5’ scrawled next to Paul Pogba’s No 10 Juventus shirt. Theories were put forth. Pogba was burdened by wearing the prestigious number as the Bianconeri struggled. This was his way of ‘returning’ to his old No 6. Or, it was actually a ‘75’ to honour the birthday of the iconic Pele.
Either way, as Juve’s Scudetto defence got off to a rocky start, Pogba’s performances came in for criticism. Without Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal the look of the Old Lady’s midfield changed. Even more so as Claudio Marchisio and Sami Khedira sat out the opening weeks through injury. The onus was forced on Pogba, who went from talented youngster to midfield leader.
It took time for Pogba to adjust. The return of Marchisio and Khedira helped him settle. In the latter months of a successful 2015-16 campaign, the Frenchman was one of the stars. He ended the Serie A season with eight goals and 12 assists – a League high alongside Miralem Pjanic – in 35 appearances.
Pogba netted four goals and assisted a further seven in his last 10 matches in all competitions. He proved one of Juve’s most decisive players in a season which ended with another domestic double.
With focus shifting to the international game, he dons the Bleus shirt in the right frame of mind. Voted the Best Young Player at Brazil 2014, Pogba can go a step further as France chase another home success. European Champions in 1984 and World Cup winners in 1998 when Pogba was five, France are one of the favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy.
On Monday, Pogba provided a sumptuous assist for Olivier Giroud to volley home in France’s 3-2 triumph against Cameroon. The 23-year-old’s 30th cap for the French national team was highlighted by his jinking feet and inch-perfect cross for the Arsenal man.
Just like in Turin this season, Didier Deschamps will be expecting key contributions from his star midfielder. Pogba can drift in and out of matches. His usual position at Juve on the left of a midfield three ensures he is not always the focal point of a contest. But in the final third Pogba’s creativity and eye for goal is valuable.
Deschamps has been rocked by pre-tournament defensive injuries, including to Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu, putting extra importance on what they do in the final third. The boss will be relying on Pogba. He responded in Turin and can do the same at Euro 2016.