Paul Pogba is certainly one of France's best. After captaining his side to FIFA U-20 World Cup glory in 2013, he has since stepped up to represent his country at the highest level, featuring at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil and reaching the final of UEFA EURO 2016 in his homeland. The 23-year-old has also represented *Les Bleus *admirably by becoming one of the world's standout midfielders at club level, winning four consecutive Serie A titles with Juventus before becoming the most expensive player on the planet with a multi-million pound move to Manchester United last year.
The imposing midfielder is emblematic of a new generation of French talent, perhaps the finest collection of players since the country hosted and won the 1998 World Cup, led by one of Pogba's idols Zinedine Zidane. Like his friend and France team-mate Antoine Griezmann, the Manchester United man was nominated for The Best FIFA Men's Player, making the shortlist of 23. The Atleti *forward went one step further though, making it into the final three, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Pogba sat down with *FIFA.com *to discuss *Grizou's chances of usurping Ronaldo and Messi, as well as discussing Zidane, a nominee for The Best FIFA Men's Coach Award, and giving his take on the FIFA Puskás Award finalists.
FIFA.com: Antoine Griezmann has been nominated for The Best Men’s Player award alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – how does it feel to see a French national team-mate, and friend, up for such an award?Paul Pogba:I’m very proud of him. I know what he’s been through. When he arrived at Atletico Madrid the first year, he wasn’t playing all the time, he was on the bench. He talked to me, saying he was frustrated, that it was hard as he wasn’t playing. After that he kept working hard, and now he’s one of the three nominees for The Best award. I’m very happy for him, especially to see a French player doing so well. You can see the French players are going back to the basics, like our predecessors.
What would you say are Griezmann’s main qualities?I think it’s his finishing. He wasn’t a striker before but now he scores so many goals. He’s very clever and he plays with his body. He’s not that big, he’s small, he’s fast and agile and he scores goals. That makes him Griezmann, the very good player that he is.
*What’s he like in the dressing room? *You would be surprised! He’s one of the funniest guys I’ve met and played with. He is someone who always has fun in training, he works hard but with pleasure, as a game. We have fun. He sometimes goes in goal, doing some amazing saves, other times he’ll act like he’s Didier Drogba, holding the ball up.
You often show some impressive dance moves on social media, what about Antoine?He’s got something! (laughs). He’s got some moves. But he won’t show it! He doesn’t want me to say it, he’s someone who doesn’t want to show his skills. He's a good dancer for sure.
*As far as goal celebrations go, you seem to have made 'the dab' your own. What do you make of Griezmann's goal celebrations? *You know what? His ['Hotline Bling' goal celebration at EURO 2016] was special because he was the only one to do it. But my dab was more powerful around the world than his ‘Hotline Bling’ celebration. To be honest though, even I was doing his ‘Hotline Bling’! I think that shows it’s good... (laughs)
Messi and Ronaldo have shared the top award between them since 2008. When do you see an end to their dominance?When they stop scoring goals, and they stop playing at the level that they are – or when you have other players who will play as well as them, or even better. Even if they are as good as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, the style, the way they play, the way they act off the pitch, it’s more than football now, I would say. When you have someone who can go above them, into that level on the pitch and outside the pitch that’s when it will happen. I don’t know when though because they’re still at the highest level.
This is football, I love seeing them play, I love seeing them score goals, they make me love football even more. When I see them, it makes me improve even more. It makes me want to try to catch them.
Who do you think can break up their hold on the award?Of course, there are other players who can do that. We have Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] at Manchester United. Even he could do it. He’s 35 years old, but the way he’s playing, the way he’s scoring goals, you can see that he’s been in the top level for more than ten years. [Eden] Hazard, Neymar, [Luis] Suarez are doing so well and scoring goals, these are great players who – if they keep scoring – can do that. They need to keep scoring though, because that’s the case with Cristiano and Messi, whose performances are always on top.
You were on the shortlist of 23 again for The Best this year. How close do you feel you are to being in the final three?I’m still far away. It’s good to be in the top ten, five or three but that’s not really what I’m about. If I’m in the top three, I want to be the number one – so that means I’m still very far away. I have to keep working hard and playing well because I don’t like to be second, or third, they’re the worst places to be. You would be proud, of course, because it means you’re on the way, but you want to finish first.
Another Frenchman, Zinedine Zidane, is nominated for The Best Men’s Coach this year. How much of an idol was he for you growing up?
I admire him a lot. When I was younger, I was watching his videos, the way he was playing. I love big players, but there are some players who have something extra. On the pitch you have 11 players, in the squad, 22, and you see only one or two. You always see him doing something special, the way he’s playing, it’s beautiful to see. Ronaldinho was the same, these are players who have something special – he has that. I was always watching him. The ball was in one place but I was always looking for Zidane.
You were just five years old when he scored his headers in the 1998 World Cup Final against Brazil. How much of that tournament do you remember?Zidane was Zidane. He saved France. Everybody was talking about Zidane. But we don’t often speak about [Fabien] Barthez, and [Lilian] Thuram’s goals [in the semi-final against Croatia]. They had a very good team, they were complete. We speak about Zidane because he scored those two headers in the final. To be honest, I would applaud the other players as well.
*He once said that you could “become one of the best players ever.” How does it feel to receive praise like that from him? *When somebody like that says something like that, you flop and go down to the floor! You have to be positive and take it in a good way. You have to be focused because if you go in the other direction, backwards, people will say: “ah, now, you see – people were speaking about him in that way, and look where he is.” You have to be focused, know where you want to go. I have my goals, and I won’t stop until I reach them.
You’ve scored some spectacular goals in your time, so you’re well-placed to give your judgement. Which of the three FIFA Puskás Award finalists would you vote for, and why?Because she’s playing at U-17 level, scoring such a beautiful solo goal, I would say my vote would go to Daniuska [Rodriguez]. The free kick, and the overhead kick are both brilliant, but I’d go for hers.
Are there any goals you’ve scored which you think are worthy of being nominated for the Puskàs Award?If it was the Pogba Award, instead of the Puskas Award? (laughs). Third place, because of the technique, would be my volley against Swansea. This is because of the technique, it wasn’t easy (laughs). (Editor's note: in Manchester United's 3-1 win against Swansea, 6 November 2016). Second one, against Napoli for Juventus. I missed my touch first, the ball went high and I smashed it in (Editor's note: in a 3-0 win against Napoli, 10 November 2013). The first one, my favourite, was against Udinese. Look it up! *(Editor's note: in a 4-0 win, 19 January 2013). *