Didier Deschamps was coach Aime Jacquet’s voice on the pitch when France won the World Cup in 1998, but now he is the one sitting in the dugout he has found his own trusted lieutenant in Paul Pogba.
The Manchester United midfielder was Les Bleus’s inspiration in the dressing room when they won the 2018 World Cup and France’s performances have often depended on Pogba’s displays.
At Euro 2020, he scored a splendid goal to put France 3-1 ahead against Switzerland in the last 16, but it was also his mistake in midfield that gifted the Swiss an equaliser for 3-3, before France exited on penalties.
It was Pogba who voiced Les Bleus’s frustration after two consecutive draws in the World Cup qualifiers last month, which seemed to have an immediate impact as they went on to beat Finland 2-0.
“He brings his enthusiasm, his dynamism, his good humour,” his United team mate Raphael Varane told a news conference on Tuesday, ahead of France’s Nations League semi-final against Belgium in Turin.
“He’s got this positive energy and this experience of the highest level that he passes on. Him and me we’re not the oldest ones but not the youngest ones either so we create the link between the generations.
“Paul brings his leadership, he knows how to motivate and re-mobilise the squad. He also puts the team ahead of everything, that’s one of his strengths, which he passes on to the young generation.”
Pogba has seemingly been unfazed by all the talk that has surrounded his potential contract extension with United and Deschamps pointed out that the midfielder had a selfless approach to his role within the France team.
The pair had a heated exchange during the Euro 2020 clash against Switzerland, but they have since put it behind them.
“There is the player he is and what he is capable of doing. Yes, he has become more important than when he started. He is there and is one of the leaders of the French team,” Deschamps said on Monday.
“He is an expressive leader who is between generations. He can act as a relay. He has this capacity to always have this notion and this collective reflection towards his situation.”
The attacking trio of Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann will always garner their fair share of attention, but how Pogba fares against Belgium on Thursday is more likely to determine France’s performance.