Florentin Pogba: If Paul ever leaves Manchester United, he'll go to Real Madrid or Barcelona
Speaking to AS about his return to Spain, imminent Elche signing Florentin Pogba also discussed José Mourinho - and did not mince his words...
Florentin Pogba, brother of Manchester United's Paul, will be registered as a new Elche player next week following a period on trial at the Segunda División club. The Guinea international defender, who has been a free agent since leaving Turkish side Genclerbirligi in the summer, is out to help his relegation-threatened new employers beat the drop to Spain's regionalised third tier, and earn a spot in his country's 2019 Africa Cup of Nations squad.
As an ex-Celta Vigo youth player, how do you feel to be returning to Spain and joining Elche?
Really happy. It looked like issues with [Spanish] financial-fair-play regulations were going to prevent the deal from going ahead, but I know that Elche have made a huge effort [to sign me] and now I have to focus on doing everything I can in the next five months to get back to my best and help us get out of trouble, and hopefully also win a spot at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Why were you without a club?
That's a question I'm still asking myself. I had played Europa League football for six straight seasons and had been an important player for my clubs. In the final game of the season in Turkey, I had a problem with a team-mate. I got injured and had to go off, but a problem with the language barrier meant that he didn't understand that and things got out of hand. That has only happened to me once in my whole career. Because my surname is Pogba, everything got blown out of proportion; it wouldn't have become a such big thing if it had been anyone else. I was accused of being crazy, aggressive, problematic... There were clubs that closed their doors to me. The last six months have been really difficult for me.
Did you have offers?
Yeah, there were enquiries from quite a few clubs. At the beginning of the summer, I was hopeful of returning to Saint-Étienne [where he spent six years between 2012 and 2018], but that end-of-season incident at Genclerbirligi did me a lot of damage. So I've come to Spain to kickstart my career, just as I did when I became a part of the Celta Vigo youth set-up.
What memories do you have of your time in Vigo?
I started playing football in Paris at the age of 11, along with my twin brother Mathias, who is a forward. As teenagers, [academy director] Chuti Molina then signed us for the Celta youth teams. That's where I met [now agent] Erik Depolo. Those were the years when I most enjoyed my football. We challenged for silverware in league and cup. I was a midfielder, and Chuti told me that, as a left-footer and with my physique, I'd have a future in the game as a central defender - and he was right. I partnered [current Celta captain] Hugo Mallo in a team that also had [Newcastle United's] Joselu...
How come you didn't end up in the Celta first team?
They offered me a five-year contract, with the first two seasons in the 'B' team - but I felt that I was already good enough for the first team. I could have bided my time and made the step-up to the seniors via the 'B' team, but I could see other players going into the first team I who didn't think were any better than me. So I decided to go to France, sign for Sedan Ardennes, play in Ligue 2 and keep on growing as a player.
What was your childhood like?
When I was three, my mother took us [from Guinea] to Paris in search of a better life. She worked as a cleaner. We'd go to school and play in the street. Mathias and I both liked playing ping pong. From the age of six, Paul played football, to begin with as a forward. When we shaved his head, he looked just like Thierry Henry. We'd drive him crazy telling him he had to score goals like Titi! Then he grew a lot physically, and started playing as a midfielder.
Football is in the blood...
Yeah. My father was a forward, and my mother was an attacking midfielder and was captain of the Guinea team. But to begin with, what we most liked was table tennis. Paul, the youngest, was really competitive. The three of us would play in the same tournaments and come first, second and third.
Your brother Paul looks happy again.
[José] Mourinho leaving was the key. He wasn't happy, and it was clear to see. Now, under [Ole Gunnar] Solskjaer, everything is much better. My brother knows him from his time in the Manchester United youth set-up.
It's always been said that the Pogbas are Barcelona fans.
And it's true. We like tiki-taka. Whenever I can, I watch their games [on television] or go to the Camp Nou. When my brother leaves Manchester United, there are only three clubs he can go to to improve: City, Real Madrid or Barça. He's not going to go to City, so he'll come to Spain: to Barça or Madrid.
He appears to have been close to joining both clubs during his career...
When he was at Juventus, he could have gone to Barcelona, but he was determined to return to Manchester United, where it hadn't worked out for him first time round. There was also movement [over a transfer to Madrid] when [Zinedine] Zidane was in charge, but he had his heart set on going back to England.
What can Florentin Pogba bring to Elche?
Strength and reliability at the back, and the experience of an international footballer who has played in the last six seasons of the Europa League. The only thing that goes through my head is keeping a clean sheet. That automatically gets you at least a draw. I like to bring the ball out from the back and link up with my team-mates.
Finally: when will we next see you dancing?
Whenever I get together with my brothers. Before then, though, I hope to score at the Estadio Martínez Valero and share a dance with the home fans. There are some guys in the dressing room who look like they're useful dancers, like Sory Kaba, Neyder Lozano and Alexander González. If we stay up, I'm sure even [Elche boss] Pacheta will be dancing!