After the 4-0 win over Udinese, Juventus director Giusepe Marotta said that negotiations with Fernando Llorente are at an "advanced stage." In the meantime, Juventus may well lean on Paul Pogba.
The 19-year-old French midfielder scored two blistering goals against Udinese with a combined distance of about 60 yards, proving the difference between the teams until the visiting defense crumbled late in the match and Juventus padded the score.
The brace leaves Pogba only two off the pace of Juve's top scorer in the league this year (Fabio Quagliarella and Sebastian Giovinco each have six). The lack of a consistent goalscorer is why Juventus is pursuing Llorente and Lyon striker Lisandro Lopez. In fact, given the strength in midfield already, fans of the Old Lady may wish Pogba's skillset overlapped more with the man the Juventus players jokingly called him on his first day of training: Mario Balotelli.
The two share a physique and flamboyance. Compare their bleached hairdos this weekend (Pogba had frosted tips and two stripes on each side). But the stately way Pogba turns away from pressure in midfield brings others to mind. Check out his second goal from this weekend. The first will show up on plenty of season-best lists; the second showcased his ability to calmly shift into open grass.
Arturo Vidal poked the ball at Pogba under pressure. The Frenchman's planted leg shielded against Allan's tackle, and he languidly rolled the ball with the spikes of his cleat to leave Allan behind in the Udine third. Then Pogba drilled a low ball that skipped into the bottom corner of the net. Udinese goalkeeper Daniele Padelli, from his backside, lifted his arms as if to ask why his defenders gave Pogba so much space, or maybe why the soccer deities are so cruel. In the stands, Pavel Nedved stood, shook his luxurious mane and applauded.
Conte said the performance reminded him of Frank Rijkaard. Many Italian newspapers have compared him to Patrick Vieira, the man who advised Pogba to join Juve. "I do not want to mimic anyone," Pogba told SkySport24, "I just want to improve and remain Paul Pogba."
He, as much as the rest of us, is still figuring out who that is.
For Halloween, Juventus players dress in elaborate costumes; Pogba suited up as Darth Maul. This summer, the villain vibes may well have fit. After helping Manchester United win the 2011 FA Youth Cup and making seven substitute appearances for the first team, Pogba refused to sign a contract extension. For a measly 1 million euros in compensation he moved to Juventus for a 600,000 euro salary, per La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Just another money-grubber driven by a dirtbag agent, in this case Mino Raiola. "I don't think he showed us any respect at all, so, to be honest, I'm quite happy,” Sir Alex Ferguson told MUTV. "If they carry on that way, they're probably better doing it away from us."
Not many teenagers choose to leave Old Trafford. Even fewer help their careers by doing so. "I'm impatient," Pogba said.
In September he said he wanted to become the best player in the world, starting by making France's squad for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Haughty and reckless. Another Balotelli. Except that Pogba may be trending toward the other comparisons, those composed midfielders of recent history.
In October, Pogba scored his first goal for Juventus, a technical one-time volley from a considerable way outside the box, to seal a win over Napoli, Juve's biggest title challenger. A few days later he unveiled his coming-out performance.
"It was a 20-minute hurricane against the Bologna defense," Diego Costa wrote in La Repubblica. "A 'Sandy' called Pogba." He had a goal disallowed and then hit the post. Eventually he scored the winner with a glancing header. "He's no longer just a prospect," Bologna boss Stefano Pioli told Raisport.
At many clubs, the Le Havre product would have moved beyond prospect. La Gazzetta predicted Ferguson would curse having let Pogba go. But Juventus, despite its striking woes, lays claim to arguably the second best midfield in the world. Juventus also lays claim to a ruthlessly demanding coach.
"Pogba was fantastic and played a great game, but I have one criticism: he has to stay focused," Juve assistant Angel Alessio told La Gazzetta. "After 20 minutes he became a bit distracted and that's not good. Knowing [Antonio] Conte as I do, if Paul doesn't tighten up that part of his game then he will not go far.”
If Alessio was attempting to temper the hype, gradual minutes have helped. Pogba ranks significantly behind Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Vidal. He plays when one is injured. Thus far that has meant eight starts and five substitute appearances. "I still need to improve, and I'm reminded of this by the backroom staff," Pogba said.
The tough love has, at the very least, brought out a more humble side of the teenager in interviews. He speaks of pride and gratitude just to be considered for the full French squad (he's a U-21 international). Last month, when Conte dropped him from a match against Pescara for showing up late to two training sessions, he apologized profusely, even as Raiola ranted about Conte's handling of it.
"I know that mistakes must also be used to grow, and every experience is useful for the growth of each of us," Pogba told TuttoSport. "I realize my mistake and I will do everything to ensure that is not repeated in the future."
He already speaks Italian. He uses an honorific tone for his current coaches and even for his former team. And for someone who wormed his way out of Manchester United citing a lack of playing time, he eagerly accepts his current backup role.
"There is no problem if I have to go on the bench - I will go," he told SkySport24. "If I have to play, I'll play and I'll try to do my best."
With Marchisio injured, he has "had" to play, starting the three league games since the new year.
There's still plenty of time for Pogba to derail his excessively promising career. At some point, Raiola's lust for a lump cut of a transfer fee will come into play. Until then, Conte may ask Pogba to give his strikers a few finishing pointers during training.
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