When Yann Sommer saved Kylian Mbappe’s spot kick to win Switzerland a memorable European Championships knockout tie on Monday night, French hearts broke everywhere.
That moment signalled the early conclusion of Les Bleus’ Euro 2020 journey after a 3-3 draw – in normal and extra time – resulted in a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win for the Swiss over the world champions.
The most disappointing part of the whole ordeal was that the defeat was utterly deserved and, in truth, always around the corner from the moment France kicked their campaign off.
Very rarely at Euro 2020 did Didier Deschamps’ men seem like a coherent unit, completely in control and collectively pushing in one direction. For a team that lifted the World Cup just three years prior, their lack of togetherness on the pitch was actually hurtful – and, rightly put by Gary Neville in the ITV studio post-match, it was an ’embarrassment’.
Analysis after the game called out many faults in the France performance but, as you can guess, one of the major talking points was Paul Pogba. Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira and Neville all claimed they were left wanting more by the Frenchman – lets just be thankful Graeme Souness wasn’t on duty.
Admittedly, there were several moments in their round of 16 clash where the Manchester United man was pulled out of position too easily and his defensive discipline was more than questionable given he was set out in a two-man midfield.
But, was it really his fault?
Was it Pogba’s fault that the shape of the team was completely transformed from what they’ve been religiously training as for the last month?
Was it Pogba’s fault that Deschamps’ decided to put him in a midfield partnership, when he never plays in a two for his nation? And was it Pogba’s fault that his manager decided to play three at the back for just the fourth time in three years, even though the team has never looked comfortable in such a shape?
No, no it was not.
Deschamp’s call to switch shape was undeniably one of the worst managerial decisions he has ever made; and ever will make. It was never easy going into the game with both of his left-back options (Lucas Digne and Lucas Hernandez), injured, of course. But to then rip up the tactics board and change to a system that his players aren’t used to at all – matching a Swiss side who are well-regimented and comfortable in the same formation – going into a win-or-exit scenario; it may have been unforgivable complacency or simple stupidity but, whatever it was, it was costly.
And even when the France boss realised his mistake and switched back to a four in defence at half-time, Les Bleus still looked lost, confused and altogether uninspired apart from one goal-laden 25-minute stretch in the second half. It was truly embarrassing but, for goodness sake, it was nowhere near being Pogba’s fault.
In fact, the 28-year old should be appreciated as France’s shining light over the course of a very difficult fortnight. In a largely dismal showing, Pogba has been the constant at the heart of the side. Consistently masterful and passionate, and his mesmerisingly world class displays have made him one of the players of the tournament – despite what most around him produced.
Against Germany, as well as a colossal defensive showing, it was his bit of magic that led to the winning goal. Against Hungary, he was one of the few that looked up for the occasion and likely to create something for his side. Against Portugal, he was once again lively and commanding, playing vital roles in both French goals.
And against Switzerland, he was tireless in pushing his team on, constantly searching for the killer pass – not to mention one of the finest goals we’ll see over the course of the competition.
Apart from occasional defensive faux-pas in the heart-breaking round of 16 defeat to Switzerland, Pogba has put in four outstanding performances for his country, demonstrating just what a committed and world class leader and player he can be.
Instead of berating him, let’s appreciate him. He’s the last person to blame for France’s woeful Euro 2020.