If there is one line that crops up in almost every conversation about Paul Pogba, it has to be: "And he's still only 21." The type of player to set tongues wagging, the young Juventus and France midfielder has been backed far and wide to reach stellar heights, with admirers pinpointing his superb technique and fearsome physical presence at 6'3. Crucially, though, Pogba also has the self-belief and ambition needed to fulfil those lofty expectations.
How many players, after all, could find themselves knocking on the door of the Manchester United first team at the age of 18 and decide they would be better off somewhere else? Pogba did precisely that when he angled for a switch to Juventus, daring to say no to Sir Alex Ferguson. Two Serie A titles later, he is more important than ever to La Vecchia Signora, decorating his consistently excellent performances with moments of genius.
Pogba's rise has been just as eye-catching at international level, with the youngster forcing his way into the senior team soon after helping the U-20s clinch the global crown in 2013. He then stood out during France's run at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, where he earned himself the Hyundai Young Player Award. Picking up the trophy in Paris, Pogba spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his pride, his career thus far and his burning ambition.
FIFA.com: For several years now, almost everyone has seemed convinced you will have a great career. Do you see this trophy as proof you are on the right track? Paul Pogba:This is the path I need to follow, in any case. Football is all about consistency. You can get to the summit very quickly and drop back down again just as quickly. This prize is a very good thing to have, but I need to keep progressing and perform well in every game. I can't predict the future, but I'll do everything to win many more trophies. I'll continue working hard. My goal is to be the best player in the world.* You have joined a select group of players to win this prize, including Michael Owen, Thomas Muller, Enzo Scifo, Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. What does it mean to you to see your name alongside such great talents?It's not that I don't feel like I belong in the same category - it's just that I want to be even better than them (smiles*). That's one of my goals and winning this prize allows me to take another step. But, like I said, this is just the start and I think the only obstacle that might stop me from continually reaching higher is myself. I need to keep progressing and I have to always want more.
*Who do you see as currently better than you in your position? *I think there are lots of players still better than me, but it's not up to me to worry about this sort of comparison. I try to do my job and be the best I possibly can. There are lots of midfielders I admire and watching them helps me improve. I could mention, for example, Yaya Toure, who has a similar size and physique to me but more experience. We have more or less the same playing style, even if he's a bit more attacking than me.
This is just the start and I think the only obstacle that might stop me from continually reaching higher is myself.
Do you sometimes wish you could press pause and savour where your career has already taken you?No, on the contrary. I'm able to savour it by winning trophies like this one and winning titles. That's the way I am: I always want more. It's never enough; you have to keep going. I'm a winner and I don't like to lose. I always set myself new objectives and new challenges. That's what makes me progress and I need to keep that mentality. That's just the way I am.
What are the differences between the Paul Pogba of today and the Paul Pogba from before the World Cup?The difference is a Paul Pogba who has grown up. A Paul Pogba who saw… not the World Cup slip away, but a childhood dream. The loss to Germany reinforced my desire to win a title with this France team, with my country. I felt myself grow up and I now have new goals and more ambition.
You play in a position with a lot of responsibility and people expect a lot from you with both club and country. Does knowing you have so much responsibility at the age of 21 influence your way of playing?To be the best, you need to have pressure. At the moment, players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are always under pressure. Sometimes you see that they're not happy even when they score a goal. It's that attitude which allows you to raise the level of your game and your ambition.
The France team still has significant room for improvement. Can it reach its peak for UEFA EURO 2016 and win the tournament?I hope we'll be at our best in two years. Right now, we have a very good dynamic. We're progressing well and we need to continue in this direction. We have to always want more. For now, we've managed to earn our place back in the hearts of the French public. Winning back the love that we'd kind of lost will help us a lot in the future.
*What were the key moments in the development of the player you have become today? *Each change of club has been important: firstly Le Havre, then Manchester United and after that Juventus. The fact that I got to discover high-level football and share a dressing room with great players was a turning point. That gave me the desire to be one of the greats.
Which qualities and failings steered you towards the position you now play in?Well, I know about my failings. I sometimes take risks that I shouldn't. I also need to be able to manage my game over the full 90 minutes. I mustn't play uniquely by instinct. Those are the things I have to pay attention to in my position, because it's in midfield that you control the play, get the most touches on the ball and where you can change the rhythm of a match. We're the engine of the team to an extent and we can't afford to fall short.* Your former Juventus coach Antonio Conte and current France boss Didier Deschamps both played in midfield for *Juve, like yourself. Do you enjoy a special bond with them? Has either demanded anything specific from you? *Yes, without doubt. I've progressed with both of them. Didier Deschamps, for example, knows me very well and knows how to manage me. He helps me improve every day, whether it's in training or in a match. He gives me the desire to give my best. He always gives me good advice and he's very honest with me. As a player, you really appreciate getting trust and encouragement from your coach. What he tells me most is to "stay focused and keep things simple", the way he used to do so well (smiles*).
*Is there a side to your personality that people do not know about? *The people who know me know I'm someone who likes to laugh, make jokes and get the most out of life. We have a great life and a wonderful job. We're able to walk, and eat and drink to our heart's content, which isn't the case for everyone. We can't complain. I'm just happy and content with everything that happens to me.