Paul Pogba is a footballer who demands attention with everything he does. And attention is something he gets, in abundance, sometimes incredibly positive, such as when he scores a quickfire double in the Manchester derby and turns the game on its head.
Sometimes, however, there can be negative reaction to his efforts on the football field. It’s almost like he has to do something extraordinary to back up his enormous talent. When he doesn’t, he can be the one singled out for criticism.
It is easy to understand how his price-tag and status as Manchester United’s record signing can generate such an overly critical glare, a point made by manager Jose Mourinho during the past couple of seasons. Neymar has usurped him as the world’s most expensive player and yet, at international level, still questions are asked of the midfield marvel.
When France overcame Australia in their World Cup opener, the first goal was secured with a penalty, eventually awarded after VAR consultation, that owed much to Pogba’s vision. It was his slide-rule pass towards Antoine Griezmann that lured Joshua Risdon into his rash tackle.
Of course, initially the second goal was awarded to Pogba when he played a couple of one-twos and the ball looped in off Aziz Behich. It was officially altered to an own goal but it was all down to the United man, who made it happen and probably would have supplied the finishing touch had it not been for the defender’s intervention.
That goal proved to be the winner in a 2-1 triumph but Didier Deschamps’s much-touted side attracted very little praise.
The same can be said for their second outing in Group C, as Peru were seen off 1-0 in another victory that was more methodical than magical.
Little matter that Peru look a decent team, Les Bleus should, apparently, be doing better than qualifying with a game to spare. Again, Pogba didn’t deliver if you read much of the reaction to his performance. But the breakthrough arrived when he robbed Peru’s best player Paulo Guerrero and quickly released Olivier Giroud. When the Chelsea striker’s shot was blocked, Kylian Mbappe pounced to net.
It was similar to when Pogba outmuscled Tottenham’s Mousa Dembele in the Emirates FA Cup semi-final to set up Alexis Sanchez’s header and this was further evidence that he is capable of stealing possession high up the pitch and hurting opponents by selecting the right option.
So, two games under his belt and a part played in all three of his country’s goals. However, there seems to be a feeling Pogba is one of the few star performers yet to truly live up to their reputation in Russia. Any attempts to have more impact in Moscow were denied him when the 25-year-old was left on the bench throughout Tuesday's tepid 0-0 draw with Denmark as both teams qualified with ease.
This time, it will probably be the entire French team that gets any flak for the first goalless stalemate of the tournament. If Pogba had played, it’s probably not being too unfair to suggest he would have been a focal point for that negativity. As it is, he will be spared that scrutiny this time around and can already look ahead to the round of 16.
And this is when everything gets even more serious. Do or die. France won’t care a jot about the fact they have yet to truly spark into life in Russia. Or at least they shouldn’t do. Deschamps’s talented bunch did the job very effectively in the group stage – as did Pogba.
Maybe that will come in the knockout stages and he will finally receive some praise. Five years ago, Pogba won the Golden Ball at the Under-20 World Cup as France beat Uruguay in the final. It was an honour previously bestowed upon Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi and the first indication he could dominate tournaments on a global level. There is still time for him to have a massive impact on this one, starting at the weekend, after taking a breather in Russia's capital on Tuesday and recharging his batteries.