Paul Pogba committed himself to Juventus, insisted he is “not the anti-Mario Balotelli” and explained why “Serie A is extraordinary.”
Still only 20 years old, the French midfielder is already a senior international regular and a huge bargain for the Bianconeri, having arrived on a free transfer when his contract expired with Manchester United.
“My brothers are both players, Florentin at Saint-Etienne and Mathias at Crewe Alexandra, while my father wanted to be a player and then a Coach,” he told La Repubblica.
“I grew up watching videotapes of Pele, Diego Maradona and also Jean-Pierre Papin. I wanted his strength and aggression. I also want to point out my family cared a great deal about my studies and I wasn’t too bad at school.
“I left home early to play football, but I didn’t suffer from loneliness. I called home and always talk to my family. I’m not a tough guy, nor one of those players covered in tattoos.”
With that in mind, Pogba was asked whether he represented the anti-Balotelli.
“I think he suffered a great deal, as there are wounds from one’s childhood that never heal if you didn’t feel loved enough. A bit of understanding wouldn’t go amiss, as Balotelli had a difficult life. He might seem like a ‘bad boy,’ but deep down he’s a good man. When I lived in Manchester we had similar hairstyles and some people mistook me for Balotelli.
“I like to read a lot and understand my roots, where I came from and who I am. I only recently went to Guinea for the first time. It’s beautiful, but tough. People here complain, but they don’t realise that parts of Africa have nothing at all – water, light, food. Going to Africa shakes you up, but gives you a new sense of balance.”
Pogba concedes his formative years at United were dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson, even if they didn’t always see eye to eye.
“He is unique in understanding what players can be, even before they themselves realise it. Many owe their success to him. He believed in me early on, even if I didn’t play often. He also said I’d struggle in Italy because there was too much racism, but I told him that was everywhere and England certainly wasn’t immune to it, as proved by John Terry and Luis Suarez.
“The truth is I really struggled to settle in England. The first six months of learning English was hellish, as if you don’t know the language then the British aren’t very helpful.
“Italian football is much more tactical than in England, but at the moment Serie A is underestimated. There is so much pressure, apprehension, tension and obsession here. It’s true, I suffer at being marked so tightly. Plus the media talks about one gesture for the whole week, so you never breathe a sigh of relief. Mind you, that excessive focus is what makes Italian football so anomalous, different, difficult and in the end also extraordinary.”
“I won’t deny as a child I dreamed of playing for Arsenal or Barcelona, but now I dream of playing for France against my brothers as they play for Guinea.
“For me Juve is Zidane, Trezeguet and Nedved. It is talent, class, discipline and teamwork. As for me, I know promising success isn’t enough, as you have to maintain those promises. I am not embarrassed by my talent, nor do I have an absurd rush to prove myself. I’ve been through the ranks, so I know it’s a journey and I am eyeing the final destination.”