- Back to his best, Paul Pogba looks to have grown in maturity
- He wants to erase the pain of the UEFA EURO 2016 final
- "The Croatian players are world class," he warns
By Adrien Gingold with France
France fans have been introduced to a whole new Paul Pogba since the start of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Dominant, diligent and full of creativity, the midfielder has radiated a newfound maturity and class. He is determined not to put that good work to waste in the final.
Nicknamed Piochy by team-mate Antoine Griezmann, the France stalwart was a study in seriousness when he visited our studio this week. Often seen smiling or joking away from the pitch, Pogba was fully focused on the task ahead, despite Les Bleus having seen off Belgium two days earlier to clinch a spot in the Final. "I'm really happy, but I don't want to feel proud yet," he explained. "I want to wait. We haven't achieved anything yet."
Past campaigns have taught the 25-year-old that one team always ends up heartbroken after a final. "There's the UEFA Europa League final I won with Manchester United in 2017, but otherwise I don't know what it feels like to taste victory in a final," he said, having been named man of the match when United triumphed last year. "In both the Champions League final in 2015 and the UEFA EURO 2016 final, I ended up with the taste of defeat."
So bitter was the experience in fact, that he seems to have forgotten winning the FIFA U-20 World Cup final in 2013, where he was also voted player of the tournament.
While Pogba is wary of Sunday's showpiece, he admits to having been less vigilant in the past. "In 2016, we made the mistake of being overconfident," he said. "After beating Germany in the semi-finals, we felt we were destined to win. I can promise you we won't make the same mistake again. I know the Croatian players well and they're world class. They qualified from an extremely tough group and only one team can lift the Trophy on Sunday. It has to be us."
No chance, then, of Pogba falling into the same trap or starting to relax as football's greatest tournament reaches its climax. After all, he is also hungry to make a childhood dream come true. "I know where I've come from and what I've been through to get to this point. I've dreamed about the World Cup since I was a kid. As a boy, I dreamed of scoring in the final."
He may well get his chance, but Pogba now has a more modest ambition – which he revealed with a laugh. "I've revised my goals: now I just want to win it!"
Capped 59 times by France, the United midfielder grew up watching clips commemorating France's World Cup victory in 1998 – when current coach Didier Deschamps was captain. His mission on Sunday will be to replace those childhood memories with first-hand experience as an adult.
"We have a star on our shirts, but it wasn't me who won it," he explained, determined to add one 'final' touch to his long-held dreams.