The 2011-12 Serie A title—the first for Juventus since 2006—was secured without losing a single game, as they joined Arsenal as one of very few invincible teams in the history of the game. The foundation for that incredible achievement was, according to most observers, built upon a midfield viewed as one of the best in world football.
With precise passing, intelligent interchanges and intense pressing when it was required, the Bianconeri appeared to have the perfect blend in their central trio. At the heart of it, Andrea Pirlo was a man reborn. The incredible passing, touch and vision that has always been his hallmark returned to the forefront of the Calcio landscape after accepting a new challenge away from Milan.
Having won two league titles, the 2006 World Cup and playing in three Champions League Finals, he had stagnated, and it is hard to believe match-winning displays—such as the one against England at Euro 2012—would have been possible had he stayed with the San Siro club.
Alongside him, Arturo Vidal blossomed into one of the best defensive midfielders on the continent, and Turin native Claudio Marchisio completed the formidable trio.
Even with an array of talent already at their disposal, Juventus did not rest on their laurels, and set about adding players to make a great team even better. Common wisdom tells us it would require spending a large amount of money to find a player capable of breaking into this all conquering side, yet that would not be the case here.
Arriving from Manchester United for less than £1 million in compensation, Paul Pogba had a reputation as a difficult youngster with an inflated opinion of himself. There were questions over his excessive demands for both money and playing time. Yet, from the moment he arrived at Juve’s Vinovo training complex, all those issues quickly disappeared, giving way to one of the most talented prospects the storied Italian giants have ever purchased.
Now, 18 months on from his move, the player has silenced the doubters and risen to meet Conte’s challenge. To see the 20-year-old in action is to witness something truly special.
His debut campaign saw him score five goals in 36 appearances for the reigning Serie A champions, and he displays a versatility that few players can match. Initially used as a deep-lying playmaker in order to give Pirlo a rest, Pogba also spent time alongside the Italian, replacing either Vidal or Marchisio where his physical presence and energy came to the forefront.
Few would imagine a player still in his teenage years and with barely 200 minutes of senior experience to his name could find a way into such a team, but his consistency was such that, by March, even France coach Didier Deschamps could no longer ignore him. He gave the quickly maturing midfielder his senior debut in a World Cup qualifier against Georgia in March, and since then he has become a staple part of the Les Bleus set up.
He has started the new season in the same rich vein of form, already contributing six goals and five assists in his 20 appearances. Conte too has been impressed by his development, telling a press conference in September that the player has begun to realise his incredible potential.
“We started working on him a year ago and his progress has been incredible,” the coach told reporters (h/t FootballItalia). “I saw interviews in which he said he wanted to become the best in the world. I am happy with that, because in my view he can be the best. He’s also humble, so he listens to the advice given by me and by his teammates.”
Now a regular starter over Marchisio, Pogba has become an essential member of the team, with only Vidal, Carlos Tevez and Gigi Buffon having made more appearances this term. Talk of an impending contract renewal is vital to the continuation of that, the player remaining in Turin to succeed Pirlo perhaps the key to Juve’s continued dominance.
Pogba has transformed from Manchester United reserve to potential protagonist at this summer’s World Cup, winning titles along the way with Juventus. He has not disappointed Conte, rewarding the faith shown by the coach, while proving he belongs on such a stage. With Pirlo now 34, the club must strive to ensure the future of Paul Pogba is simply black and white.