Paul Pogba will struggle to score even a quarter of the goals netted by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and will not receive the same personal accolades collected by such illustrious rivals but, as the French international record signing prepares for his second Manchester United debut tonight, Jose Mourinho has no doubt he has signed the world’s best midfield player.
The £89 million former Juventus man will play some role in the opening Friday night Premier League fixture of the season, at home to Southampton, four years after leaving Old Trafford for nothing.
Mourinho has called on United supporters to help improve the atmosphere inside Old Trafford – something that has been lacking over three disappointing years under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal – and while he warns those fans not to expect spectacular instant results from Pogba, he has no doubt of his quality.
”First of all, when you speak about the best players in the world, you go immediately to the ones that score a lot of goals,” said Mourinho. “You don’t give a golden ball to a goalkeeper, you give it to [Fabio] Cannavaro once, because in that season he was the captain of Italy, the world champions, not many top players.
“Maldini never got a golden ball, Zanetti never got a golden ball, top goalkeepers over history didn’t get a gold ball, so you look immediately to the ones that score a lot of goals.
“Can Paul score the same number of goals as Ronaldo and Messi? Not even 25 per cent, I believe. I believe in a season he can’t score 20 goals.
“So if to be the best player in the world means to score a lot of goals, that’s not the point. But he’s one of the best midfield players, maybe I could say the best in the world.”
United’s vast investment in Pogba has been all the more spectacular given his departure from Old Trafford on a free transfer in the summer of 2012 when Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge.
Mourinho has spoken with the former United manager concerning the loss of Pogba four years ago and claims the club’s current hierarchy deserves praise for righting that earlier error.
“We exchanged a few ideas about it,” said Mourinho. “I know the club did everything, Sir Alex did everything.
“The decision was made between the player, his entourage, his agent and the way it worked for them, it was a great decision. But I think it was very important for the club not to be afraid to do what they did (re-sign him).
“If you lose a player, it doesn’t mean if you get a chance to recover him, you don’t recover him. Chelsea did the same mistake with (Nemanja) Matic. And a few years later, I pushed the club to do the deal. We did one mistake, why would we want to make the same mistake? So Paul is back and I think really happy to be back.”
Given he has only been back in pre-season training with United for 11 days, Pogba seems likely to either start and leave proceedings early against Southampton or come off the bench for the final half hour or so.
And Mourinho is aware that anyone expecting his latest signing to make a gaudy, eye-catching instant impression at United will be disappointed.
“I think his impact will be something very natural, something that. maybe for your eyes, will not become an ‘impact’, but in my eyes it will be a progressive impact of contribution to improve the team, because that’s what he’s here for, to win trophies, so I see a very natural process,” he said.
“I’m not expecting, the first time he touches the ball, to dribble five guys and score a wonder goal.
“I expect the first time he touches the ball to make a correct pass, a good selection of passes, a good choice, a good simple execution and the game fluid.
“So, maybe it’s not an impact, maybe just a natural improvement of the team, because he’s a super football player.”