France full-back Bacary Sagna has moved to defend teammate Paul Pogba in the wake of recent criticism the youngster has faced from the French press.
Big things were expected of Pogba going into the World Cup but, after escaping a sending-off in the 3-0 opening win over Honduras, the Juventus midfielder saw himself dropped for the emphatic 5-2 trouncing of Switzerland.
Returning to the starting XI for final group game against Ecuador, with France all but assured of a place in knockout stages, the 21-year-old’s performance in the 0-0 draw earned mixed reviews and, despite clear signs of his enormous potential, some have questioned whether a place in the lineup for Monday’s last-16 tie with Nigeria should be guaranteed.
However, Sagna, who also played 90 minutes in the Group E finale in place of the rested Mathieu Debuchy, has maintained that Pogba is one of the side’s key pieces and backed his compatriot to play an important role for the team in the rest of the tournament.
‘It was good [from] Paul,’ he told L'Équipe. ‘This is an important player, important for the team, perhaps one of our best midfielders.
'He played the first game, then the team was changed. It is not easy for him as for others. He made a good start to the World Cup. We count on him.’
Having previously been at Manchester United before controversially departing for Juve in July 2012, Pogba has established himself as one of the top youngsters in Europe during his two seasons in Serie A, helping the club to back-to-back titles, while inviting comparisons to French legend Patrick Vieira.
A strong, physically-dominating presence in the centre of the pitch, the highly-rated wonderkid is reportedly being courted by Chelsea this summer, with a price tag of around £60 million indicative of his status as one of the game’s hottest young properties.
Hotly tipped by many to be one of the breakout stars of the tournament, Pogba’s World Cup may not have begun in the storming fashion many expected, but he undoubtedly remains an important player in the eyes of France manager Didier Deschamps, and will have a prime chance to silence any critics on Monday should he be given the start.