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Stop this Pogba war: France must be united to win Euro 2016

10:30 GMT+3 19/06/2016
Hd Paul Pogba France
Although they have won their opening two matches of the competition, there is a great deal of expectation on Les Bleus to shine, but the domestic media must ease off

GOAL COMMENT

Before Euro 2016 began, the question was asked: who can beat France? The answer already seems quite simple: France.

Didier Deschamps' side may already have qualified for the last 16 thanks to a couple of victories but everything is not settled in their camp. Wins over Romania and Albania have been slight and were only achieved by late goals, increasing pressure from the domestic media for Les Bleus to produce a more dynamic performance on Sunday against Switzerland

Inevitably, the backlash has fallen onto the shoulders of midfielder Paul Pogba, a player billed as their star man in the build-up to the tournament. The 23-year-old has thus far failed to respond. After an over-elaborate display against Romania, he was dropped for France's second game but came off the bench at the break to give a more measured, if unspectacular, display.

For weeks Deschamps has been trying to play down the expectation level placed upon the former Manchester United youngster but the media have continually tried to get the better of what has developed into a tit-for-tat battle. Pogba feels that he has been unjustly criticised and that was reflected perfectly when he gesticulated in the direction of the press box after Antoine Griezmann headed Les Bleus into a belated lead against Albania.

Initially, the gesture was not shown on French television, as the companies deemed it too inflammatory a moment, one that would cause a polemic and damage the team's hopes in the long term. The written media, however, were quick to pounce on the story after it emerged that the footage had been shown on Belgian channels.

Pogba responded by releasing a statement implicating that the media had taken a moment of celebration the wrong way, forcing Deschamps to defend his player on the eve of the meeting with Switzerland at Lille's Stade Pierre-Mauroy.

"He has given me his explanation," said the coach. "I have confidence in him and I believe his sincerity. That's the most important thing."

The Juve star, it seems, will not be scorned again and should expect to start in the midfield after he brought better balance to the team versus Albania. Deschamps, though, has given little away with regards his plans, as the final training session was held behind closed doors.

For months the national side have been wracked with controversy. They are without star striker Karim Benzema as he continues to be investigated for allegedly trying to blackmail international colleague Mathieu Valbuena. In this instance, Olivier Giroud has been the scapegoat as he has been jeered by fans at times – despite scoring eight times in his last nine outings.

France, of course, have a great history of imploding. There was talk of dressing-room discontent when they exited Euro 2012 at the hands of Spain, while there was no hiding the divisions in the squad two years earlier when the team infamously went on strike in protest against then-coach Raymond Domenech.

Even when Les Bleus won the World Cup in 1998, all was not necessarily well, with the relationship between the players and the media one which was especially strained, particularly in the build-up to the competition.

"The French media sometimes should take a look at themselves in the mirror. They have done this before. Before the 1998 World Cup, they attacked Aime Jacquet. Personal attacks. It was a disgrace," Emmanuel Petit, scorer of the third goal as France beat Brazil 3-0 in the final that year, told ITV.

Speaking separately to RMC, Petit added: "The Pogba case irritates me. In recent months, we've had so many problems in the France team with absences and controversies... I don't care about Pogba's gesture.

"What I see is that the team has won its two games. It was difficult, certainly, but no team has shone since the start of the competition."

"On Wednesday I was at the Velodrome and the pitch was poor. It was an ice rink. How are you meant to play football in such conditions? I'm not looking for excuses; I'm just saying that, given the rotten context of the last few months, the team's doing pretty well."

Petit is not the only member of the 1998 squad to come to Pogba's defence.

"We expect a great deal from him," Christophe Dugarry told L'Equipe. "There's a great deal of emotion, with a public and journalists who are more and more rapid with their judgements. I think Paul's put under too much pressure.

"When I read his interviews, I tell myself he's making a mistake. He wants to be the best player on the planet and win the Ballon d'Or... that's not how it happens. At his age, Zinedine Zidane and Michel Platini didn't say that. Each takes his own time."

Dugarry is someone who speaks from experience. "I could not read a paper or listen to the radio without hearing I was s***," he explained of his World Cup experience. And he retaliated too, mocking the press after France beat South Africa 3-0 in their opening match. 

The rift is not yet as great as it was in 1998, when the situation proved reconcilable and the squad became national heroes thanks to their gutsy displays, yet it was not until the latter stages of the knockout rounds that they were finally backed by the media.

If France are to go all the way this summer, history will need to repeat itself.

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