Fun-loving Pogba an inspiration for France

It seems everyone is talking about Paul Pogba. Hugely impressive in his role as captain of a France side that have made their way to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013, the young midfielder has also been starring for club side Juventus since last autumn.

No less an authority than Andrea Pirlo described him in the following glowing terms: “He’s as tough as they come. He’s physically very strong and likes to run with the ball at his feet and score goals.”

Called up to the senior national team in March 2013, Pogba was described by France coach Didier Deschamps as a player with the potential to be great: “He plays a role on the pitch where you don’t usually score a lot of goals”.

The football world has seen many sides to Pogba over the last couple of weeks in Turkey. Clearly discontent with the team’s patchy form in their opening games, he has on occasion lost his temper. Yet he has also found time to motivate his team-mates with inspirational words, dance with them in celebrating each and every goal, share a laugh with Yaya Sanogo in the tunnel at the Istanbul Arena, poke fun at his fellow squad members and chat quietly away with journalists in the mixed zone.

In an attempt to get to know the real Paul Pogba, spoke to his Bleuets colleagues and the team’s coach Pierre Mankowski and asked them to describe him in a single word. While they all came up with different answers, not one could resist breaking into a broad smile on hearing the name of this larger-than-life character.

Alphonse Areola: “Captain” He’s the captain in every sense of the word. He’s a reassuring presence in the midfield for us and he makes the game look easy. He has that little bit extra that just adds something to the team. He’s also got a real love of life, and that helps keeps us going because he creates a really good atmosphere in the camp.

Jean-Christophe Bahebeck: “Infuriating” He is infuriating (laughs)! He wanted to cut my hair before the match against Uzbekistan. He came up and said to me: “JC, that haircut is really bad. You can’t go on TV like that!” All of a sudden he got hold of the clippers and afterwards he kept on asking me: ‘Have you seen your haircut? It’s really good, isn’t it?’. We’ve been playing together for years and years and our understanding is only getting better. He did the right thing in going to Juve, where he had a great season. He’s always the same and we always have a laugh with him. He pokes fun at you a lot, but we give him plenty back too. He really loves making fun of Dimitri Foulquier’s Guadeloupe accent (laughs).

Alexy Bosetti: “Confidence” He inspires confidence. When he’s on the pitch the team feels as that little bit stronger. He plays for a big club and that means he brings the experience that some of us don’t have yet. It’s reassuring to have him on the pitch, but off it he’s a normal kind of guy and very laid-back.

Lucas Digne: “Exemplary” Serene, calm, down-to-earth. There are a lot of words you could use. He never panics and he calms the whole team down. He has an enormous presence on the pitch, and though he’s played for the senior team he never talks about it and he’s come back into the U-20 side as if nothing’s happened. It’s all been very natural. He sets an example as a captain and a player.

Dimitri Foulquier: “Crazy” He’s crazy and he’s always making fun. He cracks jokes, laughs and teases people, but always in the right way. On the pitch he wins so many balls with his endlessly long legs, which is a real asset for us (laughs).

Pierre Mankowski: “Presence” I’d say he has a huge presence on the field of play and in general as well. He covers every blade of grass when he plays. He is everywhere and he always wants the ball.  He’s also larger than life off the pitch. You need to keep a little eye on him because he’s a different type of character. He's Paul. He’s a positive leader and it’s reassuring for his team-mates to have him around on the pitch.

Pierre-Yves Polomat: “Experienced” He’s the most experienced player in the team and he’s got character, and that rubs off on the squad. Above all, though, he’s a really nice kid. He’s the captain and the star of the team and when I came into the side as a last-minute replacement he gave me a very warm welcome. We roomed together and he started chatting to me straightaway, which put me at ease.

Mouhamadou Naby Sarr: “Dancer” He dances the whole time. As soon as the music comes on in the dressing room he starts dancing and everyone else joins in. He’s an exuberant character and out on the pitch he just wants to win.

Florian Thauvin: “Mimic” He’s good at doing impressions of people. He makes fun of and imitates everyone. Lately he’s been doing a lot of impressions of Swagg Man (a heavily tattooed French rapper). He’s always in a good mood and whenever things get tense he lightens the atmosphere.

Samuel Umtiti: “Joker” He’s a good guy, a really nice guy and he’s very easy to get along with. Even though he’s played for the senior team, he’s kept his feet on the ground. He’s very down-to-earth and I think a lot of him. He’s also a big joker, though, and he makes fun of virtually everyone. He’s in his element when he’s with a group of people who like to fool around. He knows how to enjoy himself.