“I can tell you that Paul Pogba, I don’t know how and I don’t know from where, has become a leader,” defender Adil Rami noted after the World Cup final. “He proved it to us, he showed it. He’s the one that showed the way. He was the strong man of the France team.”
Pogba put to bed any doubts over his world class status at this World Cup: a winning goal against Australia, swashbuckling performances against Argentina, Uruguay and Belgium in the knockouts, another winning goal in the World Cup final against Croatia to cap off a mesmerisingly good display in the middle.
But in a way he did much, much more than that. As Rami notes, something awakened in Pogba during those five weeks in Russia – a coming of age, of sorts. He has always been a technically brilliant player. But that alone guarantees little. That he has married his on-pitch brilliance with a sense of authority – an ability to motivate, to energise, to impassion, to have teammates older than him enraptured – is the real triumph of his World Cup.
And so, let us take a trip through a few videos released over the last day or so which show Pogba galvanising his men as France wade deeper into the knockout stages, and put Rami’s quotes into context.
📹 | Pogba’s rousing dressing room speech before the World Cup Ro16 game against Argentina.
“Messi or no Messi, we fight!” pic.twitter.com/hbXh74uslz
— Man Utd Stuff (@ManUtdStuff) July 18, 2018
“The details boys. Fellas! We want warriors on the pitch today. I don’t want to go home tonight. Me, this evening, I’m not going home. Tomorrow, we’re staying at the hotel.
“We’re going to eat that f—ing sauteed pasta again. I don’t give a s—, we’re not going home. We’re going to finish happy. I want us to have a party tonight.
“I want everyone. Today, we run ourselves to death out on the pitch. No one lets anyone else down. No one drops off. On the pitch, we’re all together. Good guys and warriors. Soldiers. We’re going to kill them today, these Argentines. Messi or no Messi, we don’t give a s—.
“We’re coming to win the f—ing World Cup. We have to get through this to do that. Come on boys!”
Sure enough, Pogba was tucking into his sautéed pasta back at the hotel that night. His performance in the middle that day, combined with the electric brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, put France on the map at this World Cup, demonstrating what they can do.
They didn’t just stop Messi. They played with aggression and a sense of heart, too. The display they gave echoed Pogba’s speech in the Kazan dressing room.
Next on the list was Uruguay, who France dispatched with ease, 2-0.
“It's done, there's no turning back, it's done. We're going to continue, we're going to go til the end. We’ll meet on the 15th of July. All together!”
— United Xtra (@utdxtra) July 16, 2018
“That’s it, there is no turning back anymore. That’s it! We’re going to continue, we’re gonna go all the way! See you on July 15th – all together!”
“Today Blaise [Matuidi] is on the bench, he’s disappointed, he’s annoyed! He wants to play more than anyone else on the pitch! He’s bummed!
“It’s for guys like him that we fight today! He’s not going to be there on the pitch, but it will be as if he was there with us. Everyone needs to bring their A game!
“And now we’re going to fight for our partners, like we did before! Argentina and maybe even more! Even more! Always more! We have to beat the best to be the best!”
The content of what you say is always secondary to how it is delivered. You could have the best speech in the world in front of you but if you read it like Jeb Bush, nobody will listen.
This is the crux of Pogba’s charm, his ability to captivate a room. He radiates a mixture of raw, unbridled energy and an almost religious belief in the collective, in fighting for each other. France did that at this World Cup: working as a unit, defending together and, crucially, countering together in perfect harmony, with Pogba – the instigator and motivator – turning defence into attack.
Ahead of the biggest game of their lives, it was Pogba – not veterans like Hugo Lloris or Blaise Matuidi or Laurent Koscielny, or even Didier Deschamps – who had the last rousing word before the players stepped out into the Luzhniki Stadium.
Pogba: “One game from history. Today, i want us to be in the memory of all French people. Their children & great grandchildren, to be in their memory for life. I want us to be warriors and I want to see tears of joy. Let’s go.” 🇫🇷 #MUFC pic.twitter.com/DuIeOLyvlG
— Man Utd Update (@ManUtdsUpdate) July 18, 2018
“One game from history. Today, I want us to be in the memory of all French people. Their children, great grandchildren, to be in their memory for life. I want us to be warriors and I want to see tears of joy. Let’s go.”
The strong man of the team, as Rami rightly says. Many have criticised Pogba of only talking the talk at Manchester United. These remarkable videos, which show the presence and impact he has in a dressing room full of superstars, followed by his spellbinding midfield displays as France went deeper into the competition, show that this notion is in fact nonsense.
In footballing terms, Pogba has grown into a man. A warrior, a leader, a commander, a fighter who implores others to fight with him.
Look at those videos again. Look at the vitality and spirit exuding from him like fumes. Look at how those words resonate with his teammates. Look at the way he carried that vibrancy onto the pitch and acted as a springboard in midfield for the world champions.
He is too good, too important, to not have as the nucleus of Jose Mourinho’s team: off the pitch as well as on it.
His manager at Old Trafford may not believe in this type of leader. That is why Antonio Valencia, who leads quietly and by example, is captain instead.
But if last season’s mundane conclusion and France’s World Cup is anything to go by, there is only one man who deserves – nay, needs – to have the armband at Man United next season.