Sibling showdown a dream come true for Pogbas
Many of the remaining players in the Europa League probably hoped that December's draw for the last 32 would pit them against Manchester United but none of them hoped for it as ardently as one Saint-Étienne defender.
"I watched the draw and, when I saw who we got, my first reaction was: 'Yes, that's a dream that's going to be fulfilled,'" says Florentin Pogba, whose dream is shared by his whole family. "They will all be in the stadium watching, including Mathias, I think," says Florentin. Mathias is his twin brother, a forward for Sparta Rotterdam. The pair played on the same youth teams together, first while growing up as children to Guinean immigrants in Roissy-en-Brie, Paris, and then after joining Celta Vigo in Spain at 16. But neither has played with or against their younger brother, Paul, United's world-record signing.
"The rules in the youth league we played in was that no player could play in an age group more than two years above his actual age," says Florentin, who is three years older than Paul. "Of course we played together informally. At first Paul played with the guys his own age but soon that stopped being fun for him so he came to play with us. He was always excellent technically but he used to get pushed off the ball at the beginning because he wasn't built like the older guys, but once he toughened up he thrived.
"We used to play every day and hope that one day all three of us would play together in a professional match. That was the biggest dream. We haven't managed it yet but having two of us together on the pitch is already good."
Florentin and Mathias were born in Conakry before the family emigrated and later pledged their international allegiance to Guinea, whereas Paul opted to play for the land of his birth, France. Florentin and Mathias did wear French jerseys, however, when supporting their brother during Euro 2016. "We are each others' biggest supporters and I am proud of everything we have achieved," says Florentin.
"We have all made a lot of sacrifices to become professionals. Leaving home when we were very young, for example, was really hard. Mathias and I were 16 when we went to Spain and, if that was tough for us, it was even harder for our parents."
Florentin moved back to Sedan in France after two years in Spain and joined Saint-Étienne in 2012. Mathias, meanwhile, has played for seven clubs since Celta Vigo, including Wrexham and Crewe. At the same time as Florentin and Mathias went to Spain, their parents, Fassou and Yeo, also waved goodbye to Paul, although he went only as far as Le Havre at first. But when he reached 16 he, too, left the country, joining Manchester United for the first time before heading to Juventus three years later to become a big-time player in earnest. Four Serie A titles later he returned to United as the world's most expensive player but, says Florentin, as the same person.
"The transfer fee is just a detail," says Florentin. "He didn't decide it. There are some crazy aspects to the world of football. Paul is exactly the same person now as he always was."
Florentin does not know what it will be like playing against his sibling. "Playing with Mathias was brilliant. We had an understanding that is very difficult to explain. We just instinctively knew where each other was and what we were going to do," he says. "Playing against my brother, on the other hand, will be something new. We've been having fun about it ever since the draw, sending messages like 'Watch out, the match is getting closer' and so on."
They also have regular amusing exchanges about other matches - because of Florentin's devotion to one of United's rivals. "Arsenal are the club of my heart," he says with glee. "I've supported them ever since the Invincibles - what a team!"
The question of support raises the issue of how the rest of the family will follow Thursday's match. "It's very much a case of everyone wanting us both to play well and may the best team win," says Florentin. "I've never asked a player to swap jerseys at the end of the game. I think that after this game there'll be a quite natural exchange of shirts."
Sunday Indo Sport