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Euro 2020: Why Paul Pogba is so much better for France than for Manchester United

There’s a classic moment in The Simpsons when Homer’s attempts to construct a backyard barbecue pit end up resembling a disaster zone of grill parts and setting concrete.

‘Ah, that’s one fine lookin’ BBQ pit,’ he says, staring at the pristine illustration on the box. ‘WHY DOESN’T MINE LOOK LIKE THAT?!’

The scene sprang to mind watching Paul Pogba play for France at Euro 2020. Serene, inspired, running the show… Manchester United fans could be forgiven for asking: ‘Why doesn’t our Pogba look like that?’

Paul Pogba on the charge as France defeated Germany in their opening match at Euro 2020

He was again to the fore as France drew 2-2 with Portugal to secure top position in Group F

He was again to the fore as France drew 2-2 with Portugal to secure top position in Group F

But Pogba's brilliance for France comes as a frustration to Manchester United supporters

But Pogba’s brilliance for France comes as a frustration to Manchester United supporters

Whenever the midfielder replaces United red with the blue of his country, he seems to transform into a superior player who strides about the field without a care in the world.

It’s been the case at the ongoing tournament. Pogba was UEFA’s ‘Star of the Match’ in France’s opening win over Germany, playing the crucial cross-field pass in the lead-up to Mats Hummels’ decisive own goal.

And on Wednesday night, in a ding-dong draw with Portugal, he was the one who again caught the eye, setting up Karim Benzema for France’s second with a stunning pass.

It goes deeper than just assists, however. Pogba brings leadership and composure to this France side, ensuring they didn’t panic when Cristiano Ronaldo wreaked havoc, steering them to top spot and a last-16 tie with Switzerland.

And everybody rightly sung his praises. Respected French newspaper L’Equipe awarded him seven out of 10 in their ratings, which seems low but was the joint-best score with two-goal Benzema.

Pogba speaks with coach Didier Deschamps after France's draw with Portugal in Munich

Pogba speaks with coach Didier Deschamps after France’s draw with Portugal in Munich

He was named UEFA's Star of the Match after a commanding performance against Germany

He was named UEFA’s Star of the Match after a commanding performance against Germany

Alan Shearer on the BBC described Pogba’s pass to Benzema as ‘perfection’ while ITV pundit Andros Townsend described him as the ‘player of the tournament’ so far despite being less influential in the 1-1 draw with Hungary.

That may be open to debate but there’s no question Pogba is performing at a level in this tournament just above his best displays for United last season. And that was arguably the best of his five years at Old Trafford.

Of all the pundits, it was inevitably Roy Keane who cut to the chase on the 28-year-old the other night.

‘There’s no doubt he’s a talented boy but I still want more from him, particularly when he’s playing for Manchester United,’ the former United midfielder said.

‘There’s a difference between the Pogba we know with France and the one we know at United.

‘I think when he’s with United, he maybe doesn’t take responsibility, maybe there’s too much responsibility or maybe there’s not enough players around him who can take responsibility.’

Pogba brings down Cristiano Ronaldo during a ding-dong final group game in Munich

Pogba brings down Cristiano Ronaldo during a ding-dong final group game in Munich

With N'Golo Kante doing the defensive chasing alongside him, Pogba has licence to attack

With N’Golo Kante doing the defensive chasing alongside him, Pogba has licence to attack

SofaScore's graphic shows how impressive Pogba's stats have been at Euro 2020 so far

SofaScore’s graphic shows how impressive Pogba’s stats have been at Euro 2020 so far

Keane is certainly right in suggesting the calibre of players in the French team are higher than those at United, allowing Pogba to share leadership responsibilities and affording him greater freedom to express himself.

The tactical set-ups are often identical. Didier Deschamps went with a 4-2-3-1 against Portugal, the same as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the vast majority of United games.

The difference is that Pogba is paired with N’Golo Kante for France, a player who could make your average Sunday League duffer look good with his tireless endeavour shielding the defence and a proven winner for club and country.

Pogba knows that Kante will willingly and ably cover for him should he wish to carry the ball upfield or make a forward run to try and sneak into the penalty area.

One stat tells you everything: Kante and Pogba have played together in the French midfield 30 times now. They have never lost a match.

Pogba wasn't able to have such an influence when France were held by Hungary in game two

Pogba wasn’t able to have such an influence when France were held by Hungary in game two

Pogba tussles for the ball with Germany's Toni Kroos during France's opening Euro 2020 win

Pogba tussles for the ball with Germany’s Toni Kroos during France’s opening Euro 2020 win

At United, with all due respect to Fred, Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay, that assurance isn’t in his mind. Bruno Fernandes plays the creative No 10 role Pogba would probably like to play, so therefore he can’t escape defensive duties.

United have certainly tried enough ways to try and ‘unlock’ their £89million world record signing over the past five years but that nagging doubt they’ll be done on the counter is never too far away.

This filters in to the notion of trust between player and manager. Deschamps is the only international manager Pogba has known at senior level for France.

He gave Pogba his debut in 2013 and 83 matches have elapsed since in which they’ve won the World Cup and reached a European Championship final.

In all those key tournament matches, Pogba has been the one entrusted by Deschamps to run the midfield. He started all seven games for France at Euro 2016 and six out of seven at the Russia World Cup in 2018.

For all the effort of Fred in United's midfield, he isn't up to the standards of Kante for France

For all the effort of Fred in United’s midfield, he isn’t up to the standards of Kante for France

Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have formed a good understanding but want a similar role

Pogba and Bruno Fernandes have formed a good understanding but want a similar role

This isn’t to suggest there’s no bond of trust between Pogba and Solskjaer but Deschamps has been around the player much longer and willingly lets him get on with his A-game.

France also have such a deep well of talent in every position Pogba may well realise his place will come under threat if he doesn’t follow Deschamps’ instructions to the letter.

At United, there hasn’t been this continuity of management. Pogba left for Juventus under a cloud when Sir Alex Ferguson was reluctant to bring him through into the United first team.

When he returned in 2016, Jose Mourinho was far from the ideal boss and it wasn’t long before the cracks appeared. Their clash in training and touchline arguments over tactics contributed to a dressing room split that led to Mourinho’s sacking in December 2018.

Mourinho’s attitude was always that it wasn’t his responsibility to try and get the best out of Pogba and he seemed to resent the off-field distractions in the player’s life.

It didn't take long for tensions between Pogba and Jose Mourinho to bubble over at United

It didn’t take long for tensions between Pogba and Jose Mourinho to bubble over at United

Pogba's relationship with the current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is much better

Pogba’s relationship with the current United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is much better

It came across in comments during the 2018 World Cup explaining why Pogba always did better for France than United.

‘Where he’s with his team on the training camp, completely isolated from the external world, where they focus just on football, where the dimensions of the game can only motivate,’ Mourinho said.

‘During a season, you can have a big match then a smaller match, then one even smaller, then you can lose your focus, you can lose your concentration, then comes a big match again.’

That is certainly a factor. Tournament camps are designed to ensure maximum focus on the task at hand, with even one mistake potentially fatal to a team’s chances. Such pressure is diluted over the course of a long season.

But while seeing Pogba turn up and perform on the biggest stage for France comes as a shock, or even an irritation, for United fans perhaps this isn’t the right time to be too critical.

Pogba's agent Mino Raiola hasn't been afraid to cause a distraction ahead of big United games

Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola hasn’t been afraid to cause a distraction ahead of big United games

Pogba did, after all, have a pretty good season for United. His returns of six goals and nine assists would certainly have been higher if not for the ill-timed hamstring injury that helped wreck United’s title chances.

In game at the turn of the year, when United were briefly top of the Premier League, Pogba was taking control of games in the same way he does for his country.

It was no coincidence that United dropped vital points as soon as Pogba’s purple patch was ended by that injury blow.

The issue is he hasn’t produced that kind of game-changing performance often enough for a player worth £89m. The wait to see his best in a United shirt goes on and we may never see it.

It doesn’t help that his agent Mino Raiola enjoys dropping bombshells about wanting to leave the club on the eve of important matches, such as the Champions League defeat to RB Leipzig last December.

Pogba's match-winning displays for United, such as at Fulham earlier this year, offer an all-too-tantalising glimpse at his capability

Pogba’s match-winning displays for United, such as at Fulham earlier this year, offer an all-too-tantalising glimpse at his capability 

But Pogba held back some of the turning tide of opinion among United fans with a barnstorming few weeks afterwards and now, as he enters the final year of his current contract, he does seem more content there than ever.

United must make the decision this summer whether to sell him or offer him a new contract that could well be the most lucrative in the Premier League.

The financial implications of the Covid-19 crisis means the interest from Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus is no longer there, however much his stock soars again as a result of the Euros.

United fans left astonished by Pogba’s powerhouse performances at the Euros can only hope it’s a springboard into a consistent and ultimately successful 2021-22 season.

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