“Football is both one of the most collective and one of the most selfish sports. I mean selfish for strikers in particular, as they need to score and perform well. That’s their job: they have to prove themselves by scoring goals. It’s also a selfish sport because you have team-mates in your position who are sitting on the bench. So you need to think of yourself too and, in doing so, your team-mates will notice that and also give their best, as they also want to play.
“That’s what football is about: pushing yourself on a daily basis, not letting someone else take your place. And at the same time, if you’re not playing, doing everything that you can to take someone else’s place even though you’re both on the same team. If you see it in the right way, it pushes you to show the best version of yourself.”
That drive finds its source in Roissy-en-Brie, the eastern Parisian suburb where Paul and his brothers grew up. Two-and-a-half years younger than twins Mathias and Florentin, La Pioche – the joker – as Pogba is known to his family, fashioned both his physique and flair on the pitch in front of the family’s apartment block.
“It all started there. That’s where I grew up. That’s the first pitch that we played on and where we enjoyed playing football. That’s where I won my first games with my friends and that’s something that I’ll never forget for as long as I live. In terms of how we play on the pitch, like the way we protect the ball, it all started there, so the five-a-side pitch and Roissy-en-Brie will always be a part of me and a part of my game.”
It seems that for Pogba, the big boys’ playground was the making of a superstar. “First of all, my brothers are older than me so I always considered it a challenge. I always wanted to be with them, to play with them, to hang out with their friends. So sometimes we’d play football with older guys. It was always challenging, it was harder. That’s what built me up, it really did.
“I improved. I might have improved faster, actually. You have to improve because when you play with guys who are older than you, it’s more physical and more technical. They’d give me challenges: ‘Come and play with us; stop playing with your friends and come with us to play real football.’ That kind of thing. So, I went and played with them and I often lost, but I kept going and that built me up. That’s why I’m a really, really sore loser. I’m a winner, I like winning. That’s it.
“My brothers inspired me, especially on the mental side of things. I know that my brothers never gave up. I could see it in the way we grew up, what they experienced, how they started, going to the [Celta Vigo] football academy, leaving for Spain. I saw all of that. When I saw my brothers doing that it pushed me to want to join a football academy, to do well, to play, to turn professional. We all signed pro in the same year so it was a dream for all of us. It’s rare to have brothers who play football at a high level. Not everyone does that. We push each other all the time, we support each other all the time and we all want to do well.”
The trio remain tight knit, with Mathias and Florentin frequently spotted at their kid brother’s biggest games. But they have also united forces off it, setting up the Pogba Foundation in 2017 to, in Paul’s own words, “try to do our part to make this world a better place and hope to inspire others to do the same”.