Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Andrea Pirlo has put his accomplishments down to the ability to do a “bit of everything”: a jack of all trades who can attack, defend, pass – can’t he just? – and produce the odd goal or two.
The midfield maestro was missing at the weekend through injury as Juventus faced what had the makings of a tricky home game against Udinese, but not to worry: Paul Pogba took a leaf out of Pirlo’s handbook for success to produce much more than a “bit of everything”.
The 19-year-old scored two blistering goals to set Antonio Conte’s side back on the winning path after a rocky start to 2013: they had lost at home Sampdoria and drawn at Parma.
The first goal came out of the blue just before the half-time interval when the French starlet unleashed a thunderous half-volley from some 30 yards; as it flew in via the underside of the crossbar, it was timed at 101kph.
The second, midway through the second period, was as almost as potent – a hefty 97kph but hit along the ground from a metre or so closer to goal. On both occasions, goalkeeper Daniele Padelli was left helpless.
Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri rounded off a routine 4-0 victory; coupled with second-placed Lazio and Napoli drawing at Palermo and Fiorentina respectively, it left the Turin club five points clear at the top.
However, all the headlines belonged to teenager Pogba. Pundits in Italy are still wondering how Sir Alex Ferguson allowed such a star in the making to leave Manchester United for nothing more than the small change of €1m – even if United had acquired the player in contentious circumstances from Le Havre.
Mino Raiola, who looks after the affairs of Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, had begun handling Pogba in late 2011 and had brokered Ibra’s switch from Ajax to the Turin club.
When pressed on the matter in the post-game interview in the bowels of the Juventus Stadium, Pogba parried the question as easily as he had held off the Udinese midfield.
“You'll have to ask him [Ferguson] because he was the one who let me go,” he memorised from a pre-prepared answer sheet. “It's all in the past now and I am happy at Juventus and I don’t think about Manchester United anymore.”
And you can see why the tall, commanding figure has drawn comparisons with compatriot Patrick Vieira – although for older Italian fans, he possesses a style more similar to Frank Rijkaard.
Like the former AC Milan lynchpin, he has an eye for goal at the most opportune moment: Juve had been wasteful for most of the first-half against Udinese until Pogba let rip. He had already popped up to head home the winner in the 92nd minute against Bologna while his first Serie A goal secured a 2-0 win over Napoli.
Pogba celebrates against Udinese
There had been a slight dip in form before the weekend, especially in the defeat against Sampdoria, but the youngster doesn't lack confidence or a flourish: witness the Balotelli blond streak atop his Marek Hamsik spiky haircut.
Conte will keep the player's feet firmly planted on the ground. With Pirlo and Claudio Marchisio both fit again – Saturday’s match was the first time in 18 months that neither had played – Conte is set to send Pogba back to the bench for the TIM Cup semi-final first leg against Lazio on Tuesday.
“It's all about the carrot and the stick when you are managing young players,” explained the Juventus boss. “Then he has a role model in Pirlo who can show him each day in training what it takes to become a truly great professional.”
Pogba seems to be showing signs of maturity by accepting that he may not play a starring role every time – but his walk-on parts so far have certainly been eye-catching.
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