Much was expected of Paul Pogba prior to France’s FIFA U-20 World Cup final victory over Uruguay, and very few football fans could deny that he stepped up to be counted on Saturday in Istanbul. France coach Pierre Mankowski had previously chided him for not fulfilling his potential, but the midfielder responded in style, proving that he is indeed a player who thrives on high-pressure situations.
Having performed adroitly throughout the tournament while proudly wearing the captain’s armband, the Juventus man put in an exceptional display in the most important match of his career to date, making him a worthy winner of the adidas Golden Ball award for Turkey 2013.
After the match, FIFA.com spoke to the deserving recipient, whose smile was almost as bright as the glinting trophy he was holding in his arms.
FIFA.com: Paul Pogba, you have just won the FIFA U-20 World Cup on penalties, in what was a suspense-filled conclusion to the match. How do you feel after that performance?
Pogba: What can I say? There are no words to describe it. It’s wonderful – I can hardly speak. I’m really happy; we all are. I’m delighted that this was how it all ended. It’s amazing.
You spoke to your team-mates one by one during extra time and before the penalty shootout. What did you say to them?
I told everyone that we’d managed to reach the final, but that there was no reason we should stop there. We hadn’t won yet, so we didn’t have the right to stop. I also said that this was the moment we needed to give everything, to fight for each other. And that if we did that, it would all work out. We all shared the same mentality, and that helped us to become world champions.
When it was your turn to take a penalty, were you trying to beat the world record for slowest run-up?
[Laughs] Oh, that! That’s just my own way of taking penalties. It’s how I’ve always practised them. For the moment, it’s effective, as I’ve never missed one! It actually helps me a lot. It’s a sort of duel between the goalkeeper and me. I look and I keep looking, and because most ’keepers are always on the verge of diving, when I see them starting to make a move, I shoot in the opposite direction. That’s the way I’ve always done it, even in training sessions with Juventus. The coach is always apprehensive when I take penalties, but he still has confidence in me, because I’ve not missed any yet.
Your performance in the final was remarkable – you hardly put a foot wrong. Does a player know from his first touch that it’s going to be a good day at the office?
Honestly, I didn’t even think about it, because it was the team performance that mattered. We all played well, and we got our just reward.
But the adidas Golden Ball is not awarded to an entire team, just to you.
That’s true. I felt really focused. It goes without saying that you need to be at your best in World Cup finals, especially as a lot was expected of us, especially me. Right from the start, I was determined to do well, and I’m sure that was obvious from my first few touches. And I was rewarded with the U-20 World Cup trophy and this individual award I’m holding right now.
Did you feel extra pressure on your shoulders during the tournament?
Truth be told, yes. Even at the pre-match press conference, the Uruguay coach spoke about me as if I was a…[hesitates]…I wouldn’t use the word ‘star’, but they were clearly singling me out. But it all went well in the end. I did make some mistakes, particularly with a through ball for Lucas Digne that I messed up. It wasn’t a perfect match – you can always do more and do better. I hope to do so in the future.
Speaking of which, your coach, Pierre Mankowski, told FIFA.com that he expected even more from you, that you could still do more for the team, and that you sometimes make things too complicated for yourself. Did he give you a similar speech before the match?
He’s always telling me that! But it’s in my nature; I always try to do something well, to do it better, and sometime that means that I do too much. But his advice is useful, because you need to keep things simple. That comes with experience, I think. The more matches you play, the more you start to understand the game and make the right decisions. That’s how you can tell a great player from a good player, like Xavi, Andres Inistea, Abou Diaby and Yaya Toure. I know that I still have a lot of work to do. But right now, I’m just happy to have won the Golden Ball award and the U-20 World Cup.
Tonight you performed under the watchful gaze of a former Juventus player who also became a world champion, Didier Deschamps.
[Laughs] I hadn’t thought about that. We play in the same position, too. And we were both captains – that’s a lot of similarities! That gives me a nice feeling. Winning in front of him is great. He came to give us a few words of encouragement at our hotel before the match. They worked.
You come from a family of footballers, as your two older brothers also play professionally. Is this FIFA U-20 World Cup also for them?
I’ve already spoken to my brothers over the phone, in fact. They’re really very happy for me, but they’re not surprised. They told me that they knew that we’d do it, because they’d seen the determination in my eyes. Without them, without my family, I’d never even be there, and they know that. And so this victory is also for them, as it’s actually a way of thanking them and others that are close to me and always supportive of me. As I said, without them, I’d not have got anywhere, I’d not be the same player, and I’d certainly not have won the U-20 World Cup.