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Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has hit out at the criticism of Paul Pogba after sections of the French media questioned his performances in the group stage of Euro 2016.
The France midfielder was dropped by Didier Deschamps for Les Blues’ second group game against Albania after an indifferent display in the tournament opener against Romania.
Pogba cut a forlorn figure on the bench at the Stade Vélodrome but came on early in the second half and provided the assist for Dimitri Payet’s winner as France left it late to seal qualification in Marseille.
Wenger, speaking to the French publication Konbini.com, voiced his support for the 23-year-old before France’s last-16 fixture in Lyon on Sunday. “I find that in general the critics have been extremely hard on Pogba,” Wenger said.
“We forget that he is only 23 and at that age it is difficult to be the leader of the French team. Players like Platini and Zidane were also questioned at that age. Pogba is learning the game. I have never known a player to have led the France team at the age of 23, ever.
“Pogba is going through a maturing phase and he is starting to be questioned. It’s a test of character in the career of a big player. He will either lose the aura that he had, or show that he is player we were waiting for. It is a normal part of the development from being a very good player to a great player.”
Wenger added: “If we want to have a chance at winning the Euros, we must have confidence in Pogba.”
The president of the France Football Federation, Noël Le Graët, has also come to the defence of the former Manchester United prospect at his first media briefing of Euro 2016.
“I don’t know if you saw the first half against Switzerland the other day,” Le Graët said at the France training base in Clairefontaine. “Paul was great. He is a phenomenal footballer, a very gifted player who has it all. He will be vital in this tournament.”