It’s become a question that’s lingered throughout the modern age of football: just how do you unlock Paul Pogba’s potential?
Since his £89 million reunion with Manchester United, Pogba has repeatedly drawn criticism for failing to live up to expectations.
Let’s be honest, though, a 23-year-old who becomes the world’s most expensive player will always generate plenty of anticipation – even without the mix of haircuts, dabbing, emojis and fun that he radiates but which seems to enrage so many people.
Despite this, the main question has always been somebody else’s problem. Two months ago, deciphering the Pogba problem was something apparently beyond Jose Mourinho’s capabilities and a major obstacle facing Didier Deschamps World Cup preparations.
What a difference a tournament makes...
The first Premier League player to score a World Cup Final goal in 20 years. The first Manchester United player to lift the World Cup since 1966, Paul Pogba has reignited the notion he’s a player with something special to offer.
From a French team full of star potential and high-profile names, Pogba was arguably the biggest winner.
While Kylian Mbappe “arrived”, transforming himself from an unheard of £166 million teenager to a future Balon d’Or winner, Pogba reversed opinions rather than enforced beliefs.
REUTERS/Maxim ShemetovThere was also much less pomp and grandeur revolving around team Pogba during this tournament: the weekly haircuts were left for Neymar to showcase, the Swiss players provided the controversial goal celebrations and Antoine Griezmann preened his way through a lavishly-edited documentary of which Zoolander would have been proud - the punchline being the revelation that no announcement was his announcement.
Meanwhile, Pogba remained focused on the task at hand and let his football do the talking.
A more mature man
Like the French team in general, Pogba grew into this summer's World Cup.
A mediocre group stage gave way to flexing muscles before a swaggering second half in Moscow last Sunday completed the metamorphosis. Amid the deserved praise being plied on Pogba’s performances, a new level of discipline and maturity is being attributed as a key reason for his improvements.
The culmination of this was arguably his restrained, controlling influence which came against Belgium in the semifinals.
The first half against Croatia also showed lashings of defensive awareness and solidity, something which even the mighty N’Golo Kante was unable to muster on the biggest stage of all.
As the final whistle blew to signal the beginning of a 20-minute wait for the rain clouds to burst, Deschamps problem was solved and neatly passed back for Mourinho to tackle.
Or was it?
Newspaper reports surfaced last week linking Pogba with another potential move to Barcelona.
With a purely speculative price tag of €150 million placed on Pogba’s head, it seems that now is the time when his stock is likely to be at its highest if Manchester United do intend to cash in on their midfielder.
Meanwhile, back in Moscow, Mourinho was full of praise for his midfielder live on Russian Today. For all of the talk regarding a rift between player and manager, Mourinho’s assertion has always been that Pogba has room to improve. This is a sentiment which has often been echoed by Didier Deschamps but now looks like a corner turned.
Having failed to sell his wares to Pep Guardiola earlier this year, Mino Raiola could find himself again floundering before the Catalan giants.
So where now?
Within the dressing room walls back at Old Trafford, Pogba has long been a popular figure. The same can now be said for France.
Adil Rami’s recent quote suggests that the player Mourinho claims “has all the qualities needed to be a future captain” is a step closer to becoming the inspirational leader many expected for £89 million.