France finished up as the ultimate victors of the 2018 World Cup, and that might well make Jose Mourinho one of the biggest losers. His fractious relationship with Paul Pogba was perhaps the most divisive talking point at Manchester United last season, the prevailing narrative being differing interpretations of the role which allows the Frenchman to best serve this Red Devils team.
Mourinho wanted him to be disciplined in deep-lying pockets; Pogba insisted on driving forward, seemingly ignorant to the chasms of space he consequently left Nemanja Matic to cover. At times, the disagreement even resulted in Pogba missing out on a place in the starting XI.
But Pogba’s role in France’s World Cup winning team wasn’t markedly different to what Mourinho asked from him at times last season. Blaise Matuidi floated between the left wing and the engine room, meaning for large portions of the tournament and indeed the final, Pogba found himself in a flat two alongside Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante.
Nonetheless, the 25-year-old remained an important component of France’s triumph in Moscow on Sunday, keeping his discipline to curtail the influence of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic while continuously playing sizzling balls into the path of the ever-destructive Kylian Mbappe. One of those balls directly resulted in Pogba’s stunning strike to make it 3-1, as Antoine Griezmann recycled an Mbappe cross by teeing up the United star on the edge of the box for a delicious curler.
In some senses, it begs questions over Pogba’s mentality. At the World Cup he accepted the selfless obligations of his role over a month-long period in which national pride was his sole motivation, yet he so often seemed to defy them at club level last season, both in positional terms and his lust for preferring the needlessly spectacular when simplicity would suffice.
But the long-standing dispute over why Pogba’s never quite become the unstoppable world-class force at club level his one-time world record transfer fee strongly insinuated he would be, with the Frenchman’s flaws and Mourinho’s ill-fitting tactics representing the two polarising schools of criticism, has rumbled on so long now that Pogba’s goal-scoring performance in the World Cup final will inevitably tip the balance of power in the debate.
After proving he can do it on the biggest stage, even when playing in what was essentially a two-man midfield – albeit supported by easily the best play-breaker in the business in Kante – the onus is now on Mourinho to facilitate that kind of performance week-in, week-out at United, rather than inspiring questions over Pogba’s individual ability.
It makes an awkward political situation in the Old Trafford dressing room even awkwarder, and Mourinho has never been one to respond well to that kind of pressure from the players working under him. Perhaps another Chelsea-esque implosion is a little far-fetched, but some sort of collision between the pair now seems far more likely, and Pogba’s World Cup final heroics have given him the crucial upper hand.