Paul Pogba at 24: How the Manchester United Star Compares to Football's Greats

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.
Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba at Stamford Bridge, London, March 13. Pogba turns 24 amid criticism of his form. Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty

Paul Pogba turned 24 on March 15, a young man already saddled with the world's largest transfer fee in history and the expectation to match.

Frustrated at a lack of first-team opportunities, Pogba left Manchester United for Juventus in the summer of 2012.

In Turin, he won four Serie A titles and lost the 2015 Champions League final to Barcelona, before moving back to United in the summer of 2016 for £89.3 million.

Since returning to English football, Pogba has polarized opinion like few before him. To some, he is already one of the world's best midfielders. To others, he represents the victory of hype over reality and substance. In the middle, the reasonable might suggest Pogba is a young man overburdened with talent, some of which remains untapped.

Perhaps it is instructive, on the day Pogba turns 24, to compare his achievements with those he is one day expected to emulate—Ballon d'Or winners, those awarded the title of world's best footballer.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Ronaldo turned 24 on February 5 2009, following a breakout season in 2007-08 during which he scored 42 goals for Manchester United in all competitions.

The 2008-9 campaign would prove to be his last in Manchester, as he departed for Real Madrid that summer for what was then a world record transfer fee.

By February 2009, Ronaldo had won two English Premier League titles, as part of what was perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson's last great United side, plus an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Portuguese Super Cup with Sporting Lisbon.

He had also already lifted the UEFA Champions League, on a May evening at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow when Chelsea's John Terry skied a penalty and cried. Ronaldo opened the scoring in that game with a header. His goalscoring exploits in 2008 won him his first Ballon d'Or as the world's greatest footballer.

Lionel Messi

Messi celebrated his 24th birthday on June 24 2011. By that point he had won two Spanish La Liga titles, two Spanish Super Cups and one UEFA Champions League, against Barcelona in 2006.

Messi would have to wait until 2009 for his first Ballon d'Or.

Zinedine Zidane

The man who might have brought Pogba to Real Madrid turned 24 on June 23 1996. Zidane's greatness would take time to season and manifest itself in trophies: By his 24th birthday, he was still at a fine Bordeaux side containing future France stalwarts Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry that finished runner-up in the 1995-96 UEFA Cup.

Zidane would win the Ballon d'Or, but two years later as a Juventus player.

Kaká

The elegant midfielder turned 24 in April 2006, by which time he had won Serie A with AC Milan and lost one of the more remarkable Champions League finals in history to Liverpool in Istanbul.

Kaká was an early bloomer, though, and he won the Ballon d'Or aged just 25, after AC Milan gained revenge on Liverpool by winning the 2007 Champions League.