World Cup profile: Paul Pogba, France
England may have high hopes for the likes of Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, but France midfielder Paul Pogba has been tipped by many to be the young star of World Cup 2014, Kristian Hood writes.
Pogba is not an unknown quantity, of course, as Juventus fans will testify. Nicknamed Il Popo Paul - Paul the Octopus - for the tentacle-like shape of his legs when running and tackling, Pogba played a crucial role in Juve’s sparkling Serie A-winning squad this season.
Much of the Manchester United faithful will be aware of Pogba as well as he rose up the youth ranks at Old Trafford after leaving Le Havre for United in a highly controversial move back in 2009.
Three years later and Pogba’s decision to leave United for Juventus in another somewhat heated departure after his contract expired didn’t go down too well either. When discussing the manner of Pogba’s exit for Italy, Sir Alex Ferguson commented: “It is disappointing. I don’t think he showed us any respect at all, to be honest.”
It’s hardly a surprise that the then United boss was so frustrated as Pogba settled perfectly into life in Turin and his career has gone from strength to strength.
Indeed, only this week it was revealed that Juventus had slapped a £60m price tag on the 21-year-old, who David Moyes wanted to re-sign before being sacked. Pogba is still believed to be under the radar of Moyes’ successor, Louis van Gaal.
“If it were possible I would have tried to bring him back to Old Trafford,” Moyes said in an interview following his departure, and described Pogba as “the next Yaya Toure” for his energetic box-to-box style of play. Should even 75% of that potential be realised in the next couple of years then France will be among the front-runners at Euro 2016 in their own back yard.
As it stands we have yet to see Pogba truly fire on the international stage and there is much competition in the French side, who hammered Jamaica 8-0 in a recent friendly, with a rival in Moussa Sissoko currently ahead in the pecking order and limiting Pogba to 18 minutes of action that evening.
Didier Deschamps has challenged Pogba to adopt “the highest level of concentration and application” before he becomes a regular. Brazil would be the ideal location to make that happen.
Keep an eye out for…
Stephan Lichtsteiner - Switzerland: Another Juventus star, full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner has earned the nicknames ‘Swiss Express’ and ‘Forrest Gump’ by the Juve faithful for his constant forays down the right flank.
Admittedly he may have to be more conservative in Brazil as he will operate in a more conventional back four, rather than as a wing-back, but his partnership with the mercurial Xherdan Shaqiri down the right hand side should make intriguing and very enjoyable viewing.
Jefferson Montero - Ecuador: Although Antonio Valencia is the highest-profile Ecuadorian player, the national team has another trick up its sleeve in Jefferson Montero. Like many wingers, Montero is prone to inconsistency, but on his day he will frighten the life out of even the most experienced of full-backs.
The 24-year-old is currently based in Mexico but has attracted much interest in Europe, with Swansea City said to be making a bid.
Andy Najar - Honduras: 21-year-old winger Andy Najar has spent a large part of his life in the United STates but opted for his birth country when considering his international prospects.
The youngest player in the Honduran squad, Najar has impressed for Anderlecht this season, and the Belgian title winners are having to work hard to keep him there as several clubs in Europe, including Tottenham, Hull and Valencia, have expressed interest. Honduras are largely considered a solid unit but the flair of Najar could win a lot of friends.
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