Jude Bellingham must learn Pogba lessons as ex-Man Utd star’s career dwindles

Jude Bellingham is already well advanced on his journey to becoming the world’s best midfielder. At 20, the game appears to be his plaything. His rise has been so smooth that the future progression seems inexorable which will be to England’s incalculable benefit you would imagine.

Football careers though are never straight lines. The vicissitudes of form, the randomness of injury and the unreliability of teammates mean there will be lulls and dips.

And that is if a player has their head screwed on right and their feet on the ground. If they haven’t, those hiatuses can turn into something altogether worse.

As Bellingham was being drowned in praise for his performance against Scotland this week, an instructive warning flare went up from a player who was once the world’s best midfielder but whose career is ending in a sorry mess.

It is hard to say of a World Cup winner that they have wasted the opportunity handed to them but Paul Pogba comes close.

His failed drugs test puts the tin lid on a story of decline which started almost the moment he reached his sporting Everest.

The charismatic player who held the world in the palm of his hand after inspiring France to their 2018 triumph is left sifting through the wreckage of what came next.

The fall from grace from goalscoring glory in the final to Manchester United lead weight and Juventus embarrassment has been a clattering one.

Never mind a game of two halves, Pogba’s has been a career of two halves

There was a certain irony that Pogba did not even play in the game last month in which he tested positive for testosterone. He was an unused substitute for Juventus against Udinese.

Not playing has been what Pogba has been a specialist at over the past couple of years.

His return to Juventus last season after running down his United contract during an increasingly fractious end to his time at Old Trafford brought just one start due to the knee injury which kept him out of France’s run to the World Cup final in Qatar.

That sole start ended in tears after he went down with a thigh injury against Cremonese.

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There have been just two appearances off the bench this season for the 30-year-old.

If Pogba is landed with the same four-year ban imposed on Romanian tennis star Simona Halep this week, 28 minutes at bottom-of-the-table Empoli on September 3 could well be the last we ever see of him on a football pitch.

What a sad exit that would be for a player with such rich physical and technical gifts.

In his first spell at Juventus he was an irresistible force, reaching the Champions League final and winning four Serie A titles.

His £89m move to United, which made him the world’s most expensive player, brought Europa League and League Cup-winners’ medals in his first season.

But the sense grew during his time in the north-west that Pogba the player was being subsumed by Pogba the brand. Substance was giving way to image.

With all his commercial ventures, the first player to have his own emoji no longer seemed to regard the football pitch as such a priority.

United grew increasingly frustrated with him – Jose Mourinho labelled him a virus – and it was with relief all round when he finally departed for Turin.

Having found out for themselves the issues with Pogba Mk 2, Juve will probably not lose much sleep over the prospect of him never lacing up his boots for them again.

It is easy to blame Pogba for squandering his talent – and ultimately he is responsible for his own life – but no player is an island.

When someone’s own brother is charged over an attempt to extort £11m from him in a blackmail plot it becomes clear how unreliable the support network was around him.

Bellingham is fortunate to have much more solid foundations. The big career decisions he has made so far in moving from Birmingham City to Dortmund and onto Real Madrid have been well thought out.

It is naive to assume his road will be pothole-free. He will have his challenges.

But as the Pogba case shows, for a superstar-in-the-making like Bellingham how he copes with success may be just as important as how he copes with failure.

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