Anthony Martial believes that his teammate Paul Pogba will win the Ballon d’Or in the next five years, labelling the 24-year-old as the best midfield player in the world.
The Frenchman, having left Old Trafford for next to nothing in 2012, returned to United four years later for a world record £89m fee as Mourinho’s fourth and final signing of his first transfer window at the Theatre of Dreams. That figure has since been dwarfed by Neymar’s move to Paris Saint Germain, but at the time it hung over Pogba’s head in menacing fashion, with many bashing the Frenchman for failing to justify such a hefty fee during the early stages of his time at United.
He benefitted enormously from Mourinho settling on a midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and himself by early November, and he quickly emerged as an indispensable asset in the middle. His attacking nous, however, still wasn’t quite there. He claimed nine goals and smashed the woodwork on innumerable occasions, but it never quite felt like was part of United’s movements in the final third, but rather the feeder.
But Nemanja Matic’s introduction earlier this month has changed the complexion completely. The Frenchman has claimed two goals and an assist against West Ham United and Swansea, placing himself at the heart of United’s attacking onslaughts – something personified by his sublime goal against the latter side – as the Serbian seamlessly controls proceedings further back.
And Martial, who has made a blistering start to the season as well, was quick to point out that Pogba has what it takes to reach the very top.
“I would say he is probably the best midfield player in the world,” he said.
“Paul is very mentally strong and he is very sure of himself. He is a big guy, he is very technical on the ball and he has lots of endurance.
“He is still young, too, so he has a lot to work on and he can get even better. If he continues to play and improve like he is doing then I think he is also going to win the Ballon d’Or award in the next five years.”
If you strip away all the numbers, hyperbole and general noise that follows Pogba wherever he goes, and instead just watch him for the player he is, you will be treated to something special.
There are, of course, aspects of Pogba’s approach that you can question, but as a lover of football and United season ticket holder, sometimes that doesn’t matter. Above anything, he is a joy to watch. The aesthete inside all of us cannot avoid the idiosyncratic beauty embedded in the way he plays the game, especially when seeing it in the flesh.
He is one of those players capable of taking anything – a pass, a tackle, a flick round the corner – and somehow making it theirs. Some things on the pitch can only be done by the Frenchman. And that, in itself, is worth admiring and cherishing. He may not win the Ballon d’Or, but he will always be one of the best entertainers to ever grace the Old Trafford turf.