Vintage Paul Pogba comes of age to ensure Didier Deschamps delivers France's World Cup destiny
Paul Pogba should be celebrated as much as Zinedine Zidane after becoming a true World Cup great with a towering performance for France in the Moscow final, writes Desmond Kane.
The boys of summer. With an average age of only 25.8, France’s glistening band of magnificent World Cup champions are young and crisp enough to win Love Island. Yet mature enough to dominate football's most revered competition. Astonishing times indeed.
While there will be no love lost in Croatia about the manner in which Les Blues majestically revelled in a second World Cup triumph, there was more than a hint of romance about watching the delightful yet oddly derided Didier Deschamps dispense with past displeasure to complete his gilded personal mission to Moscow.
Kylian Mbappe of France celebrates with the World Cup trophyGetty Images
In the end, a 4-2 win over a game and gallant Croatian side felt like more of a natural process than enjoying a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in sun-baked wine country.
Even afterwards as the Russian premier Vladimir Putin was being protected by a brolly while French president Emmanuel Macron was roundly soaked in the Russian deluge, France could not feel the rain. They were not drenched, merely refreshed after ending 20 parched years of seeing the mirage of near-misses, most notably in losing the 2006 final to Italy on penalties and that godforsaken Euro 2016 struggle with Portugal.
Paul Pogba of France (c) celebrates victory with mother Yeo and brothers Mathias and Florentin during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final between France and Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium on July 15, 2018 in Moscow, Russia.Eurosport
The French public should raise a toast to the coach who made it all possible while they bask in a sense of national pride that sounds more enchanting than Edith Piaf in her prime. Non je ne regrette rien.
For Deschamps, this World Cup was one of no regrets. For Paul Pogba, it was one of no nonsense. This was the tournament when he finally came of age. Now 25, it is fair to speak of Pogba alongside Zinedine Zidane as a true icon of the world game.
There is no fixture more demanding than the World Cup final, a stage that demands the adventure of a lifetime, as Deschamps' former companion Zidane illustrated by scoring twice in the 3-0 win over Brazil at the Stade de France twenty years ago. Zizou was one year older than Pogba when he crowned his arrival as a genuine golden goliath of the sport.
As Pogba, the heir to the throne who now rules the world, bounded up and down the pitch, eating up the yards with a smile on his face and a maverick breeze of Vieira-like technical brilliance not yet seen at Apple, he looked like he could have played wearing cans by Dre around his lugs. The goal just endorsed his wonderful, all-round rampaging that was more memorable than Russian punk band Pussy Riot's pitch invasion.
If Deschamps was once a water-carrier in midfield, as Eric Cantona caustically suggested, Pogba has big enough shoulders to carry the weight of a nation’s hopes and stand up to the hype. This is no mean feat, and should not be undervalued. At £89m, he looks every inch the bargain buy now.
Manchester United fans will wonder how a man who was so impotent in losing the FA Cup final 1-0 to Chelsea in May, can exude such control of the football under the most intense strain less than two months later.
One wonders how Pogba looks like he is playing in a straitjacket with United when he projects so much purpose and presence representing his national side. Jose Mourinho must deliver an answer to this quandary if Pogba continues to look lost at United when he struts his stuff so imposingly with France.
This is a bloke who was dropped for Scott McTominay by Mourinho, a manager who clearly does not celebrate Pogba's wares in the same way Deschamps does. Mourinho must rejoice in Pogba not reduce him. It is a real pity to see Pogba toil at United when he has just become the first player from Old Trafford to score in a World Cup final. And what an item of beauty it was.
Deschamps will heartily thank Pogba and N'Golo Kante for giving France the platform to flourish with the type of self-belief shrinks take years urging humans to master.
The water-carrier will enjoy a full-blooded French red in Moscow, as his vibrant squad looks down upon the rest from atop the world game. Yet this is its raison d'etre.
How they managed the feat means little. History does not remember the finer points of World Cup finals. As pointed out to this onlooker, watching France is a bit like witnessing Floyd Mayweather box. They are always in control because they are tactically and technically so superior. They have become masters of managing games and moments.
It will be argued that France revelled in a semblance of good fortune to turn the match their way when the probing Croatian scorer Ivan Perisic was harshly deemed to have handled the ball in the box with the score at 1-1. Referee Nestor Pitana gave the decision after a great deal of deliberation and Antoine Griezmann calmly converted the penalty amid much protest from Croatia.
But then winners tend to enjoy the running in the furnace of knock-out battle, a natural bedfellow in sport as Deschamps discovered at the same juncture two years ago..
While France were desperately unfortunate to lose Euro 2016 to a Portugal side hell-bent on survival, here they ran out convincing winners of the World Cup’s most pulsating final since Argentina and Diego Maradona completed a 3-2 win over West Germany at Mexico's Azteca Stadium in 1986.
It will also be claimed that France could not have failed with such glorious assets, but then they will have short memories.
Two years after losing a Euro 2016 final invaded by Parisian moths, Deschamps mothballed his squad.
Pogba, Griezmann, Hugo Lloris, Samuel Umtiti, Blaise Matuidi and Olivier Giroud started from that fateful evening in Paris when football did not come home for France, but was hijacked and smuggled out on a plane bound for Lisbon.
France are as resounding world champions as Portugal were forgettable European winners. It is probably the ultimate tribute to them that you felt they won this tournament in second gear. Even if anybody who knows the ferocious nature of the sport will appreciate such a feat cannot be possible.
Croatia are a worthy second best side in the world with Luka Modric snaring the Golden Ball for his contribution to the cause in representing a country of only four million, but France are just getting started with a teenage striker who performs like Thierry Henry in his mid-20s and five players no older than 25 marshalled superbly at the back by the exceptional Raphael Varane.
FRANCE'S GOLDEN GENERATION: AVERAGE AGE 25.8
- Hugo Lloris 31
- Benjamin Pavard 22
- Raphael Varane 25
- Samuel Umtiti 24
- Lucas Hernandez 22
- Kylian Mbappe 19
- Paul Pogba 25
- N'Golo Kante 27
- Blaise Matuidi 31
- Antoine Griezmann 27
- Olivier Giroud 31
Cometh the hour, cometh the boy. Paris Saint-Germain teenager Kylian Mbappe is a killer in front of goal, a forward who moves quicker than Allan Wells winning 100m gold in Moscow in 1980. With Pogba having more of a touch of Usain Bolt about him, this French side are theatre box office in an age ripe for such performers.
England are deemed to be a work in progress, but began their semi-final against Croatia with an average of 25.7. At the same age, France are a World Cup-winning golden generation with room for improvement.
The median age is only raised by possessing a 31-year-old goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, a figure whose mistake was the only small blemish on what was a wonderful month for France, who resisted the challenges of Australia, Peru, Denmark, Argentina, Uruguay, Belgium and Croatia to reach the summit the hard way.
Aimé Jacquet's 1998 French World Cup winners were great, but perhaps not as promising as this era.
Not only have they already made good on early promise, the kids have yet to reach their peak. Perhaps most ominously for the rest of world football, the French are a budding band of round ball artistes who have just started penning their opus.
Longchamp has seen less thoroughbreds than Deschamps.