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Colourful haircuts, on-trend dance moves and social media preening – you may think you know all about Paul Pogba.
But behind the extrovert is a fiercely ambitious footballer who wants to win it all with Manchester United and France – before exploring the oceans and swimming with sharks.
From the Paris streets to Manchester, trophies at Juventus and back at Old Trafford – after a then world record £89m transfer deal – Pogba’s “short and long football journey” goes on.
The 25-year-old was an integral part of the United team that won the Europa League in his first season back, following an earlier stint in the academy, and he helped Jose Mourinho’s men finish second in the Premier League this term.
However, there have been reports of a strained relationship with Mourinho, suggestions that he has been irritated at not being played more offensively and speculation he could move elsewhere.
Now, Pogba is preparing for an FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday and after that the World Cup in Russia with France.
Here, he tells the BBC’s Mark Chapman about hard life choices, Champions League and Premier League ambitions and a dream of becoming a deep-sea explorer.
Less ping pong, more football
Pogba was born in the East Paris commune of Lagny-sur-Marne to Guinean parents in March 1993. The youngest of three brothers, he started playing football aged six for a club called Roissy-en-Brie, a few miles south of his hometown, while also honing his skills on pitches nearer his home and in all-together different game.
My Dad was a coach and played football in Guinea, my mum too – that was what she told me. We had footballers in the family.
On Saturdays I was playing ping pong and football, but sometimes just ping pong, and my coach said ‘You must stop’. So I stopped ping pong but I’m still good. You never lose it.
I think it helped me playing against older and stronger boys like my brothers.
After school everyone went to the little city stadium and would stay up late playing. My mum used to call out the window ‘Paul, just go. You have school tomorrow’ and we’d keep playing. Then, after, she’d come down and say ‘Get out of here!’ That’s the love of football.
Roissy was the start of everything. It’s the beginning of this short and long journey. First I was a striker, a number nine then I went back to a number 10 and then I stayed in midfield.
Set-backs and sacrifices
While at Roissy Pogba failed to get a place at France’s famous Clairefontaine national football centre and so left to join another club, Torcy, before leaving there for the academy of Le Havre and then Old Tafford. Meanwhile, his brothers – twins Florentin and Mathias – also pursued professional careers, with Florentin heading for Spain and Mathias going to Celta Vigo.
When you’re in Paris you want to go to Clairefontaine because you know you can become a professional. I did the test and they didn’t take me. I was so sad.
I went to Torcy, Roissy’s rival. The level was higher and from there I went to Le Havre when I was 13 or 14, it was one of the best academies in Europe and I was very happy.
We didn’t live in a big house, my mum and dad made sacrifices. In life you have to sacrifice some stuff.
In the same year, one son went to Celta Vigo and I went to Le Havre. I was every day on the phone with my mum, and I’m still on the phone with my mum, always talking. I’m very happy that they let me follow my dream.
In Le Havre they were saying ‘Don’t leave, you’re French, stay in France’. Lyon wanted me and at first I wanted to stay in Lyon. I was listening to my coach in the national team who said ‘Don’t go to England, it’s going to be hard’. But it’s Manchester United, it’s a big occasion to go and learn new culture. I only knew things in English like ‘hello’, ‘good morning’, all the basics.
But I didn’t care if my English was bad, I tried to make myself understood with hand gestures. I knew I was going to make mistakes when I spoke but that’s how you learn.
I went to school as well. We’d go to town to learn about museums and talk about things in the city like the metro. My English improved.
Loving life and blocking out the haters
My philosophy? What’s the worst that could happen? If you have the chance, do it. Never regret your choice. Do it 100%.
I have the chance to make my love, my job. What more can you ask?
You can’t be the same with everybody, you can’t trust everybody. You can have things with agents, with friends who say: ‘You’ve changed’, but the most important thing is to think about the people you make happy and who look up to you.
|Paul Pogba’s career in numbers|
|58 goals||1 Europa League with Man United|
|323 senior appearances||1 League Cup with Man United|
|51 France caps||1 Fifa U-20 World Cup|
|3 Serie A titles with Juventus||1 Fifa World Cup Best Young Player|
|2 Coppa Italia wins with Juventus||1 Uefa Europa League player of the season 2016-2017|
We say this in France: ‘If people don’t change, they’re stupid’. Do something else. Don’t eat the same food all the time. We love pasta but if you eat pasta for a year you become crazy.
I changed to become more mature. I changed when I moved to England. You have to help yourself and believe in yourself. You have to train, work hard and become a professional player for the first team.
World Cup dreaming and French or Manc?
Pogba has 51 caps for his country and is in Didier Deschamp’s squad for next month’s World Cup in Russia. A proud Frenchman, he is optimistic of their chances – but after spending five years in Manchester during two spells at Old Trafford, he also considers himself an honorary Mancunian.
I’m confident with the French squad, with the players that we have. I’m sure we can do something in this World Cup but I don’t want to be over-confident.
We have a nice team but the World Cup is in your head too, it’s not just technique. It’s team spirit, it’s more mental than technique. We have to be careful with this.
I’m confident in myself. I want the ball, I want to play, I want to win.
Am I more French or Mancunian? To be honest, I’ve been how many years outside France? I am French but I’m international too. I have the passport and the French ID but the English driving licence.
I’ve been in the (Manchester United) academy, loving the club – when you’re Mancunian once, you’re Mancunian forever.
Champions League dream and the deep blue sea
Pogba was part of the Juventus side defeated 3-1 by Barcelona in the 2015 Champions League final and now his focus is to win it with the Red Devils, but he also wants to see more of the world away from the football pitch.
It would be nice to win the Champions League and the Premier League. Very nice.
For a team, you want to win titles, you play to win. You can play the best football and it’s true, we want to play and enjoy football but if you don’t win a title – it’s good for the eyes, it’s good for the eyes – but you don’t win anything.
Outside of football, I would love to go in the sea and see the water world. To swim with the sharks, the dolphins and see what’s under the water.
It’s very scary but I’d love to do it. If I don’t come back, you know why!