Didier Deschamps has been very clear on his sympathetic stance on Paul Pogba’s footballing situation in every interview, and in every press conference, but recently spoke of his fears for the man off the pitch.
‘I love all my players, but I’m sad about what Paul is living,’ Deschamps told Le Parisien in December. ‘I’m not just talking about the most recent events, but also about everything he has experienced so far, with the personal problems that have inevitably had consequences on his injuries.
‘I feel bad for Pogba: how can he do it?’
Pogba hasn’t played a match for France for over three years, when he featured in the side’s Nations League final in October 2021. From almost that moment onwards, the problems began as he become increasingly injury-prone.
The story of the kidnapping and the financial blackmail he suffered probably also affected his performance on the pitch and his psychological condition. He is a man wounded in soul as well as body, and now his career appears to be over.
Paul Pogba has a tremendous battle ahead as he prepares to fight a potential four-year ban
Before returning the positive test, Pogba’s return to Juventus was peppered with injury worries
France head coach Didier Deschamps spoke of his concern for the player in December
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The rupture of the midfielder’s meniscus during Juventus’ summer tour in the USA forced him out for six months, and even after his return he never showed signs of physical integrity.
Whilst always active on social networks, the 30 year-old has never given the public the feeling of being sad, but concern for him from his team-mates and coaches Massimiliano Allegri, and Deschamps seems to arise from fears that Pogba has the fragility of a boy who very often appears smiling so as not to cry.
The real risk of a media implosion in the wake of a potential ban after returning a positive drugs test would also entail a loss of followers, as well as the risk that many companies may decide to no longer use his image.
Pogba’s reputation could be irrevocably damaged if he is unable to successful appeal a possible sanction – a shift that feels a world away from his status at 21, when he was a much-discussed talent and queues of children lined up to emulate his haircut at Italian barbershops.
A lifeline from Saudi Arabia
An offer from a Saudi Pro League club could turn things around if Pogba was forced to serve a ban, although his recent statistics would make sobering reading for any potential buyer.
Pogba suffered 425 days of injuries in 18 months, racking up 84 games missed and seeing him accumulate countless minor physical problems that have made his return to Italy from Manchester United disastrous. By those numbers, over the last three years, Pogba could be more honestly described as a former football player who Juventus gambled on enormously.
With no transfer fee, Juventus’ re-signing of Pogba looks like an exercise in nostalgia, but even a move for free could be judged as a failure, with even the club’s second goalkeeper Mattia Perin playing more minutes than the France international.
Should Saudi not come calling, after serving any ban Pogba would risk seeing his price collapse.
Fighting his ban alone
Pogba perhaps definitively turned off the light on his career in Europe with his final 28 minutes for Juventus against Empoli before being taken off with a muscle injury, and there is no player in Serie A with such as high number of matches missed due to injury.
Pogba played his last match for in Juventus colours against Empoli in September last year
Even Federico Chiesa (left) has had a more successful return from injury after needing severe knee surgery
The 30-year-old should not be abandoned by those who have benefitted from his career highs
Even his team-mate Federico Chiesa’s severe knee injury saw the player return to the field more quickly without incurring repetitive niggles. For his 216 minutes in total, Pogba’s exorbitant salary has cost the club close to £60,400 (€70,000) per minute considering that he has never played an entire match so far. But since his doping suspension, Juventus have reduced his salary, and Pogba no longer represents a financial burden for the side.
The request for a four-year disqualification by the Anti-Doping Prosecutor’s Office is yet another wound on a player that has already suffered a number of trials. Pogba now looks a man alone, fighting a silent battle after having so often made front page news in the international media.
There is an unfairness to his situation too: Pogba has made mistakes of naivety at different points in his career, but he is not a monster, and those who have benefitted from him professionally should not abandon him now.
In Italy there was so much frenzy about him, so much gossip and so much criticism, but today, it’s as if he had never been a Juventus player and this must hurt him like hell.