Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room

Mike McGrath
·6-min read
Paul Pogba — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room
Paul Pogba — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room

Who is Paul Pogba? Is he the player who can trend on Twitter simply by changing his hairstyle, or the polyglot who speaks five languages? The global celebrity who likes to mix with superstars, or the kid from the Paris suburbs who gifts presents to the staff at United's training ground?

All of these versions of Pogba are true to varying degrees, and yet — five years after he rejoined United for a world-record £89.3 million fee — he remains arguably the most polarising, and misunderstood, galácticos of the Premier League.

It is one of the reasons why, with his contract due to expire in June 2022, there remains such divisions among punters and pundits over whether he deserves a new deal, and confusion about whether he, or his club, want to agree one.

One thing which can be said is that Pogba would be sorely missed by his team-mates. The dynamic of the United dressing room is a Venn diagram of languages which Pogba is able to straddle: he can understand the training instructions barked in English, talk tactics with Bruno Fernandes in Portuguese, which he started learning at the World Cup seven years ago, and then happily speak French or Spanish to one of his closest friends Eric Bailly.

Italian is less useful just now at United, but Pogba can speak it fluently just the same thanks to his four years at Juventus. Bailly is Pogba's closest confidant but he also gravitates towards the Spanish speakers — Edinson Cavani has become a good friend since he arrived.

Pogba, who is teetotal, would go out on the town when the team does but is rarely out otherwise. As a young father, he spends time at home where he has installed a two-a-side indoor pitch.

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One of his closest allies in football was Romelu Lukaku, who arrived at Old Trafford a year after Pogba. Chelsea were looking to re-sign the player they sold to Everton but he ended up at Old Trafford instead. At the time of his decision he was on holiday with Pogba in Los Angeles; after Lukaku signed, Pogba took to calling himself “Agent P” as a nod to the influence he had wielded, although it was Mino Raiola who did the deal.

Pogba's role in the deal did not end there. The Frenchman had rented the most sought-after mansion on Mount Pleasant for that Californian holiday. All the houses on the street are beautiful but Pogba’s was the one everyone wanted, having been used in hip-hop videos for artists including Tyga. United ended up doing Lukaku’s unveiling at the house, having decorated it red before the photoshoot. Naturally — being Hollywood — there was a red carpet.

Lukaku and Pogba were initially inseparable but — as with so much in the midfielder's story at United — things did not prove to be straightforward. The pair ultimately drifted apart, perhaps partly due to Pogba's relationship with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who also joined in 2016.

Pogba, pictured in 2017 alongside rappers Desiigner and YG and fellow players Eric Bailly and Romelu Lukaku  — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room - GETTY IMAGES
Pogba, pictured in 2017 alongside rappers Desiigner and YG and fellow players Eric Bailly and Romelu Lukaku — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room - GETTY IMAGES

Ibrahimovic got on well with Pogba, but not so with Lukaku — a point underlined by their recent public spat in Serie A. That cooling of relations will not have been taken lightly by Pogba. The 28-year-old might make tabloid diary columns when pictured with superstar friends such as the actor and rapper Drake, but he cares most about those in his inner circle and likes to keep them close.

When he moved back to Manchester he brought over his private chef from Turin and paid for their family to stay in England. They only just moved back to Italy after missing being away from loved-ones during lockdown.

Pogba also reconnected with John Cofie, his old team-mate from United’s youth team who had dropped into non-league football and was on the books at Southport, and brought presents back to the staff behind the scenes he left behind when he left for Italy four years earlier.

In his eyes, the tea lady is as important as a first-team player, which those close to him attribute to his upbringing in Roissy-en-Brie, an unpretentious town on the eastern fringe of Paris's urban sprawl. This lack of pretence also accounts for some of those aspects of his behaviour which some find unpalatable: the hair, the fashion, the social media profile.

The fact is Pogba has no filter and, perhaps uniquely in the realm of world superstars, there is no PR team behind him: Raiola, sorts the deals, and Pogba does the rest. If a picture appears on his Instagram it is not part of a big media game, but simply a reflection of what he feels at that moment.

There are other criticisms, more difficult to deflect, around whether Pogba has fulfilled his billing as England’s most expensive player. His haul of one League Cup and one Europa League — both in 2017 — is not enough at club level for a player who won the World Cup three years ago, and there have been too many games which have passed him by.

He has flirted with the exit, most notably in 2018. After becoming a world champion with France, Jose Mourinho told him to bring the focus he showed in Russia back to Old Trafford. It was not well received, and Pogba would have left if he had been allowed to. By 2019, at an Adidas event, he spoke publicly about looking for a new challenge. Given he does not employ spin-doctors, it was probably an honest answer.

Raiola recently said a toddler could find Pogba a club but it doesn’t seem so straightforward. Spain is not as easy a move as it looks.

Paul Pogba — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room - GETTY IMAGES
Paul Pogba — Meet the real Paul Pogba: The teetotal polyglot who helps unite the Manchester United dressing room - GETTY IMAGES

Zinedine Zidane has to stay for Pogba to move to Real Madrid and that is not a given. They have also had a bad experience of taking an expensive player of the same age from the Premier League in Eden Hazard. All La Liga clubs have salary cap reductions for next season and Barcelona look to be prioritising other players.

Paris St-Germain would put him in a position where it would be difficult to leave his house, given the scrutiny he is under when he returns to see his family. Returning to Juve would invite comparisons to his four-in-a-row spell of titles. Bayern Munich look well-suited but the relentless transfer news coming out of German clubs never seems to involve Pogba.

In the post-Covid landscape there are unlikely to be pay-rises, wherever he ends up. United are certainly at a crossroads with Pogba: get the enigma to stay longer or look to sell. They know about the trouble an expiring contract can bring from picking off Alexis Sánchez at Arsenal. The most expensive Premier League signing becoming a free agent seems unthinkable, but it is a dilemma entirely in keeping with Pogba's career in England — one which will keep its observers guessing, right to the end.

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