Eric Cantona dubbed Didier Deschamps the ‘water carrier’ when they were teammates and as a coach the former France captain moulds players in his image, regardless of their position.
France are the most imposing and imperious side at the European Championship yet needed an own goal to overcome a Germany side stagnating under Joachim Low. France had two goals chalked off by the linesman but their performance was needlessly methodical.
Euro group openers are now devoid of jeopardy under the 24-team format. Coaches can operate via trial and error across all three games and still qualify for the knockout stage. Portugal did not win any of their group matches en route to lifting the Henri Delaunay trophy in Paris five years ago.
Even with a flappable goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris, France could win every game 1-0 and never be under the cosh. Raphael Varane was a rock, the full-backs are the best pair in international football and N’Golo Kante’s heat map was a pitch-wide bonfire.
Lucas Hernandez claimed the assist for Mats Hummels’s flat-footed decider but Paul Pogba made it. Hernandez was not in the picture when Pogba clipped the ball to the daring left-back.
Initially, it appeared the pass was intended for Kylian Mbappe and Pogba had overhit it but it was deliberate. Pogba ought to have made a second goal but was a split-second slow in releasing Mbappe to square to Karim Benzema.
Pogba collected the man of the match award in a game that had Mbappe, Benzema, Kante, Varane, Kroos, Gundogan, Neuer, and Kimmich starting. The impulsive narrative from the uninitiated – specifically, Jermaine Jenas – was that Pogba ‘looks way more engaged and intense’ for France.
The truth is his form this calendar year has been impressive, tempered by his club manager illogically relocating Pogba for the Europa League final. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not solely accountable for Pogba skulking in Scott McTominay’s shadow but even Pogba appeared astonished to be substituted with a penalty shootout looming.
With the French cockerel on his chest, Pogba was cocksure, oozing silk and steel. He danced away from Toni Kroos with one feint and showed bite with a robust challenge. Antonio Rudiger had a nibble on Pogba’s back. Four of Pogba’s dribbles were interrupted by fouls.
Reassuringly for purists, Pogba’s passing accuracy was at its lowest in over two months and he still generated rave reviews. At the post-match press conference for the man of the match, Pogba removed an alcoholic drink and that was the only time all night he lacked (a) bottle.
On the eve of the match, Pogba outlined his aim to tally 15 goals next season. It remains to be seen in which league he has set that target for and figures in his inner circle are adamant he will not sign a new contract with Manchester United.
Pogba’s closest teammates in Manchester have been of the opinion he should be allowed to leave as it is in the player’s and the club’s best interests. Yet Pogba, his wife Zulay, and their two young sons are settled in Cheshire and content if they are to remain in England for another year.
Paul’s never going to be a world-class left winger, is he?” Owen Hargreaves told the MEN . “ He’s good off there, he’s effective off there, but then it puts a lot of pressure on Luke [Shaw] to get on the overlap and that means, defensively, he’s not there at times.
“So I think if you can find a way to get Paul and Bruno centrally, a bit like City – almost two 10s – and then that defensive guard be an absolute machine in there, then all of a sudden you can go toe-to-toe with a lot of really great teams.”
United need a water carrier.