IT is a long way from Llanelli to Moscow. For Paul Pogba, the dream is that the journey ends today when he places his hands on that cherished World Cup trophy.

The 25-year-old’s “Les Bleus” career began in the unlikely Welsh setting in 2008 when he put his country’s shirt on for the first time in an under-16 youth international. Now, Pogba is in pursuit of the biggest prize in football.

The hopes of a nation are now on the shoulders of the Manchester United midfielder and his team-mates in the final against Croatia. Didier Deschamps’ side notoriously failed to deliver when they lost the final of Euro 2016, when France was the hosts.

However, Brian McClair believes Pogba and his French colleagues are playing with a greater freedom in Russia than they did on home soil. The Scot, who played a pivotal part in Pogba’s career during his tenure as Manchester United’s academy director, would love to see him become a world champion.

Pogba was already on McClair’s radar long before that youth debut for France in September 2008, when Pogba captained the French youngsters to a 4-2 win over Wales.

“We had been looking at Paul when he was 14 and in Le Havre’s youth team,” recalls McClair. “His physical attributes were obvious, in terms of his height and pace, but he has grown as a footballer.

“I am just glad the opinions of all the people at United who saw him first at 14 and worked with Paul in his development, have paid off. We thought he was a great prospect but you can never be guaranteed anything in football, so for Paul to reach the level that he has, is a great source of satisfaction for the club.”

McClair, of course, left United in 2016 to join the SFA for a year as performance director, just as Pogba was returning to Old Trafford as the world’s most expensive player in an £89 million move from Juventus.

McClair spent over a decade as a United player himself, after his move from Celtic in 1987, winning four English titles before eventually taking charge of the reserve side and then spent 14 years as academy director.

Pogba’s own desire to succeed has rarely been hidden. Brought up on a housing project just outside Paris, the teenager was shrewd enough to take his mother to Manchester when he joined the first time at 16 to avoid homesickness.

“Paul had to learn the language but he was really good with his English lessons,” McClair said. “Paul lived with his mum who came with him. Even in 2009, we could actually see Paul in the first team in two or three years in our midfield, if he stayed at the club. Paul Scholes was getting older and we felt Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick would form a good partnership.”

However, at 19, Pogba flew the United nest. He joined Juventus in 2012, letting his contract run out. United got nothing and Pogba was rebuked by former manager Sir Alex Ferguson for disrespecting the club.

Pogba won four Serie A titles with Juventus and reached the Champions League final, before current United manager, Jose Mourinho, sanctioned the then-record recruitment of the Frenchman.

“There is no doubt that a lot of pressure came with the move back to United,” McClair said. “I think it has been difficult for Paul since he returned. The price alone puts pressure on any player, but also what Paul did at Juventus, in terms of his success in Italy, raises the expect-ations here.

“At Juventus, he was playing in a side which rarely lost and had Patrice Evra sprinting down the wing outside him as back-up every time Paul moved forward. United play a different way now.

“He also went to United on the back of that huge disappointment for France at Euro 2016. The whole French team looked as if it had a hangover from that for a year, and maybe Deschamps too. But this time, they have Kylian Mbappe and his presence takes some of the burden off Paul.

“I think Paul has played with a freedom in Russia. His pressing game has been immense. But one of the things he showed in that win over Argentina in the last 16 was how good he was at beating players.

“Part of the problem for Paul is the perception other people have of him. They look at his physique, see a 6ft 3in man, and think he’s going to be like [former Arsenal and France midfielder] Patrick Vieira when in fact he is more like Lionel Messi when it comes to going past players and creating goals.”

Although Pogba helped United to win the League Cup and Europa League in his first year back at United, Mourinho and the supporters wanted more and when that failed to materialise last term, the manager became one of Pogba’s fiercest critics.

However, even Mourinho has been impressed in Russia. He said Pogba “played with maturity” against Belgium.

Deschamps has given Pogba greater licence to roam, and if beating Argentina 4-3 was the peak of the French campaign – a fusion of power, pace and passing grace – disposing of Uruguay and Belgium in the tough top-half of the draw lifted optimism, which had begun so modestly with Pogba earning the late opening-day group win over Australia.

Pogba says Mbappe is one of best players France has seen and that the team’s relationship with Deschamps has evolved in the last two years to a greater maturity so he can tell them anything and they will take it on board.

Certainly, at United, Mourinho’s uber-cautious football style has not helped Pogba to flourish. Deschamps has been the antidote to that and it is no surprise Pogba is now being linked with a move to Barcelona, who wanted him in 2015, on the back of his World Cup displays.

McClair will be watching his television today to see what unfolds in Moscow.

“I actually tipped Croatia as winners a while ago, and they were excellent against England,” he said. “It was a shame from a Manchester United of view that Jesse Lingard didn’t reach the final. That would have been a great match-up with Paul, having both come through the system.

“Croatia are not just turning up to be the supporting cast for the final. They have real quality. However, I hope Paul wins the World Cup for France. It would mean a lot to his country after losing Euro 2016.”