Paul Pogba played only 133 minutes for Juventus in the UEFA Champions League group stage, while M'Baye Niang did not even make it into AC Milan's squad. However, the French teenagers have been making waves in Serie A and are sure to have their sights trained on Europe sooner or later.
Title holders Juventus, who face Celtic FC in the round of 16, have made a slow start to 2013, racking up just five points in their first four league fixtures of the year. One shining light, though, has been the form of 19-year-old Pogba, who has shone brightly in the absence of a handful of injured midfielders. His two wonderful strikes in the 4-0 win against Udinese Calcio last weekend were simply the icing on the cake.
The former Le Havre AC and Manchester United FC midfielder has, in recent weeks, cemented his reputation as a player with fine control, plentiful confidence and a priceless ability to dictate games. His coach, Antonio Conte, still wants more. "Paul must grow because he can be among the best players in the world in his position," said the former Italy midfielder. "We need to use both the stick and the carrot with him."
Conte's approach is precisely the one adopted by Milan with Niang since his summer arrival from SM Caen. Surprisingly excluded from the Rossoneri's group stage squad, the forward has slowly started to find his feet. Indeed, he made such an impression – including a first goal for the club a week before turning 18 – that in December Milan extended his contract until 2017. He is now a regular in a Milan side who have won three out of four league games this year and face FC Barcelona in the round of 16 next month.
"It was not easy at the beginning but I tried to work hard and learn something every day," he said. "Playing with Caen or with Milan is exactly the same thing for me. I don't feel the pressure, which is one of my main strengths.
"Everything is possible in 180 minutes against Barcelona – I don't fear [Lionel] Messi. I hope to be included in the list for the Champions League so I can prove that. I'm doing everything I can to convince [Massimiliano] Allegri." However, the Milan coach will not make it easy. "Niang is young and must keep his feet on the ground, improve and grow," he said. "You have to work hard every day. A couple of games are not enough to show that you are worthy of a team like Milan."
Many observers view Pogba as the natural successor to Patrick Vieira, while Niang has been compared to a young Therry Henry. I personally have seen too many players labelled too quickly as the 'New Maradona' or 'Petit Zidane'. However, these two promising teenagers can, at the very least, have a significant say in this season's UEFA Champions League round of 16.
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