I’ve reached the point where I’m running out of things to compare with Paul Pogba.
The French really threw Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira & Zinedine Zidane in a pot and Paul Pogba emerged. It's unfair.
— Aaron West (@O_Fenomeno86) January 18, 2015
When I started this piece, I thought about comparing Pogba to a Bugatti cruising in 4th gear. I then began to argue with myself about his defensive workrate and rugged offroad capabilities. When I started looking at product descriptions for 2015 Range Rovers I felt it was time to change tack.
Every few generations, a transcendental athlete comes along: Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Diego Maradona, Michael Jordan, and more recently, athletes like Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Usain Bolt and LeBron James. These athletes take a fine art, mastered by many, and elevate it to a level unheard of at that point. I believe Paul Pogba is one of those athletes.
I’ve had Paul Pogba arguments with friends many times. In these arguments, the dispute usually begins not with whether or not Paul Pogba will become the best in the world, but how long it will take, how many Ballon D’Ors will he win, and to what players can we most directly compare him? What club team best suits HIS interests in the long run? My womanladyfriend Yael Averbuch argues that while brilliant, Pogba doesn’t display Zidane-esque characteristics, with that Algerian-born genius boasting a set of technical skills unmatched by nearly anyone in the world. I counter that if Zizou was capable of casually of sprinting past outside backs without ruffling his popped collar, his game might’ve been a bit different as well.
When Pogba first broke through, Patrick Vieira was the most direct comparison anyone had for him. A tall, lanky, black center-midfielder from France? Anything but Vieira would’ve been an insult to lazy journalism. As he made himself more known on the world stage, a certain Yaya Toure was also making waves on cloudy English shores, and their similarities became more and more apparent.
More and more however, as I watch Paul Pogba, it’s evident that he’s the next step in the evolution of the center midfielder. Already blessed with a frame ready-made to pack on explosive muscle, the once-skinny boy from Lagny-sur-Magne has not only developed into a powerful man, but developed the savvy to use his newfound strength and speed only when absolutely necessary. Playing in arguably the most tactical league in the world and training alongside Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio has rubbed off on Pogba in more than a few ways. Already strengths in his game, Pogba has further emulated Andrea Pirlo’s poise, vision and calm demeanor on the ball. Arturo Vidal’s defensive energy and tackling ability has seeped into Pulpo Paul, while the versatility and tactical understanding of Claudio Marchisio has permeated his being.
Serie A and Juventus cannot take full credit for Paul Pogba, though. Paul Pogba can. His improvement since he touched down in Turin has been nothing short of incredible. The first flashes of brilliance were on evidence for everyone to see, but he has since developed into a full-fledged force of nature. One moment Pogba is harrying attackers at the edge of his own area, the next, he’s magicked himself around and through a cadre of opposing players to flash a thunderbolt of Zeus-like proportions at the hapless goalkeeper standing between him and his target. Similarly to Yaya Toure, legends of his galloping runs have been whispered in hushed tones throughout Europe with the same fear and reverence as Ghenghis Khan’s hordes in the Eurasian Steppes, while stories of his careless strength resonate through the craggy rocks of Greece.
In a 2013 interview while at Juventus, current Italy boss Antonio Conte spoke highly of P-Squared, noting: “Pogba is a modern player, as he is strong, fast and has stamina. He’s also humble, so listens to the advice given by me and by his team-mates. We started working on him a year ago and his progress has been incredible. I saw his 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.”
Pogba can be the best, and most likely will be the best. The only question really is, how long will it take him to get there? For all his current ability and future promise, he is still a 21-year-old player with all the inconsistency and periodic lapses in judgment that so understandably comes from being a 21 year old man. He may be blessed with sprinter’s speed, the strength of a pubescent ox, and the touch of a fine calligrapher, but he has not yet mastered the skill of putting it all together on a day-in, day-out basis. What is most worrying for opponents however, is that even on a bad day, Paul Pogba looks as if he’s a savvy veteran forced to play with the under-15 team. Often barely exerting himself, the sheer ease with which he finesses and powers through the teeming masses of real, actual professional soccer players is frightening.
Capable of going from a walk to a gazelle-like sprint, with the ability to tackle like a mack truck, strike the ball as if it made aggressive overtones towards his mother, and pull of an elastico at full speed, Paul Pogba is almost literally unstoppable when he wants to be.
Quite simply and without hyperbole, Paul Pogba could become the best player we’ve ever seen. At 21 years old, he also could very well become a bust. Far too many of those handed the “the best player we’ve ever seen” moniker have ended their career asking their next customer if fries are their preferred value meal side. This one feels real though. As meteoric as Paul Pogba’s career trajectory has been, one gets the sense that he has it figured out. Aside from arriving to training late ONCE in 2012, Pogba’s rap sheet looks as if the printer ran out of ink. As a young, rich and famous footballer, Paul has fun. But he stays out of trouble, and out of the news aside from his on-pitch production. The young Frenchman looks as if he has a goal, and he knows how to achieve it. Already in a unique class in world football, his continued improvement may soon put him on his own pedestal. With advice and instruction from some of the best in history, and the intelligence and humbleness to soak it all in, his arrival at the top seems not only inevitable, but soon.