Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Paul Pogba’s Juventus return: Can the French midfielder get his mojo back ahead of Qatar World Cup?

Paul Pogba is returning to Juventus after six largely dissatisfying seasons with Manchester United, opting for a second spell with another of his former clubs in the hope that going back to Turin does not mirror his Old Trafford misery. Now 29, the France international is at a crossroads in his career with enough time left to deliver on the immense talent everybody knows he possesses when he feels like unleashing it, but equally close enough to 30 to no longer deal in potential.

Pogba is going back to Serie A knowing that he has no option but to succeed with only one UEFA Europa League and an EFL Cup title with the Red Devils following the four consecutive Scudetto triumphs as well as two Coppa Italia and Supercoppa crowns apiece he won with Juve. To date, there is no doubt that the 2018 FIFA World Cup success with Les Bleus has been his greatest career triumph but even that has faded into the rearview mirror when assessing his career — especially given that the 2022 event is coming up later this year.

There is a make or break feel to Pogba returning to Juventus Stadium and his decision to go back to Italy comes after Paris Saint-Germain cooled their reported interest in the midfielder as part of sweeping summer changes at Parc des Princes. Might his homeland have reinvigorated him? We will never know. While various figures throughout his career have pointed out how much happier he is with his compatriots than at club including his late, great agent Mino Raiola, Paris could have seen Pogba slip deeper into his comfort zone.

That is what makes Juve such an interesting destination. It is removed enough from the Parisian suburbs to not be considered home, but it is familiar enough to be considered something of a safe refuge at a fragile moment. This perhaps explains why Pogba’s professional senior career has been one of recurring themes so far with two separate spells in Manchester and now a pair in Turin as well although La Vecchia Signora is the only club to have witnessed two major senior outings.

Perhaps part of the influence which helped Pogba arrive at this point stems from the fact that the French national team is no longer the place of solace it was a few years ago despite UEFA Nations League Success. Head coach Didier Deschamps is under pressure to defend the team’s World Cup title in Qatar later this year while the post-UEFA Euro 2020 fallout has been brutal for the team as a whole and not just Pogba.

N’Golo Kante is available increasingly less frequently and not only does that impact Les Bleus’ setup and balance, but it also alters the on-pitch chemistry and puts added emphasis on Pogba when he himself is available and on the pitch. Deschamps undoubtedly believes in Pogba full heartedly and the Le Havre AC youth academy product has emerged as one of the leadership figures for his country.

Perhaps he and Adrien Rabiot could build up a similar rapport in Turn which could translate to the international stage. Given that the troublesome midfielder could be on his way out after a mixed spell since his arrival from PSG, though, perhaps he is more likely to make way for Pogba than to pair with him and potentially form one of Europe’s best tandems in the middle of the park. 

On and off the pitch, Pogba appears somewhat lost at present which is understandable to an extent given how strong Raiola’s influence has been on his career and perhaps that is why he has opted for familiar territory instead of stepping into the unknown. All eyes will be on the French star and Juve this coming season in Serie A and with the World Cup looming, he needs to hit the ground running under Massimiliano Allegri who he previously played some of his best soccer for. 

If Pogba remains mired in his present comfort zone, though, the chances of us rediscovering the player who was talismanic at times for France in their 2018 success will become increasingly remote.

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