Tuesday 16 January 2018

Alarm bells ring as Pogba cites Anelka as his guiding light

United will hope star does not follow path set by 'Le Sulk' mentor, writes Ian Herbert

Manchester United's Paul Pogba Picture: Reuters
Manchester United's Paul Pogba Picture: Reuters

Ian Herbert

The name at the top of Paul Pogba's list of biggest career influences was intriguing, though not entirely promising from a Manchester United perspective.

It was Nicolas Anelka; the pair never played together but since the two share Paris roots, the former Arsenal striker has become more of a mentor for the player 14 years his junior than many had appreciated.

The revelation was made in the match day programme for Sunday's 1-1 draw with Liverpool.

And the next man on Pogba's list was the individual it is thought might have been instrumental in the two knowing each other: Patrice Evra, who is a close to Anelka. Evra, Pogba said, is also the individual to whom he most looks for advice.

"He's family. That's how I see him," said Pogba. "He's always looked after me and given me advice."

The Anelka link is the more interesting one, though. They shared a challenging start to careers in England, though Anelka - known as 'Le Sulk' certainly made a more immediate hit at Arsenal in the late 1990s than Pogba did at United, where the fall-out between his agent Mino Raiola and Alex Ferguson saw him leave after only three appearances.

They share a willingness to challenge authority and, specifically, to run up dramatically against the media.

The gesture Pogba made towards the French press during last summer's European Championships, having been eviscerated by some writers for his performance in the opening game against Romania provoked trending of #boycottlequipe on Twitter.

It reflected Anelka's own sensitivity to such criticism. There is a particularly vivid film of him on YouTube, apparently sitting in his own front room, raging into his phone camera about the French media for always finding fault.

"If you love someone, you ignore faults," he tells "Monsieur La Presse."

Pogba walked out of the Old Trafford mixed zone on Sunday afternoon with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who stopped to talk, and the screams which accompanied him as he encountered fans momentarily drowned out the Swede's attempt at conversation.

It was the kind of reception designed to give a 23-year-old no pause for thought at what had been an indifferent performance, in which his naivety had seen a penalty conceded.

Read More: 'At £20m he would have been expensive!' - Dunphy savages 'useless' Pogba after dire Liverpool display

Ibrahimovic was asked whether he thought that Twitter making Pogba the subject of its first player emoji and the #pogba advertising hoardings which blinked up through the game was wise, considering he is still making his way.

"Football is like that today," the 35-year-old said. "When I started to play there was no social media, none of these things. But it's part of the game now. What is too much? We don't know. We just follow the game. . . "

The two share an agent in Raiola and know each other so of course there would be nothing off message.

"Pressure is something I enjoy. I don't know Paul personally to able to answer that for him. But I think he likes it also . . . "

Yet the impression left by two big Old Trafford games this season, against Manchester City and Liverpool, is that it is control and calm on the big occasion that Pogba must add to his game.

He told the match programme that "to become a big team you have to be good on the pitch and good in the head" though there is something of the Anelka in him.

Jose Mourinho spoke of Pogba last week as a future captain though the observation was a response to the notion being put to him. Ander Herrera looks a far more viable successor to Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick.

Anelka, whose last spell in football was in India before he bowed out two years ago, has certainly not been an advocate of United as the place for Pogba to develop. He said his preference for his friend after Juventus was Chelsea, who had stronger players and more financial power.

United will hope their player can mature and lose a little of his Anelka spirit, because until now he and his hero have shared one distinct characteristic: a tendency not to hang around in one place, always chasing the money. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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