St Etienne’s French forward Florentin Pogba. AFP PHOTO/PHILIPPE DESMAZES
A family football story born on the pitches of Paris’s eastern suburbs arrives at Old Trafford on Thursday as brothers Paul and Florentin Pogba face off in the Europa League.
“The day has come,” says elder brother Florentin, a defender with Saint-Etienne. “We’re going to face each other on the pitch, rather than on our neighbourhood mini-pitch.”
The two Pogbas’ lives have veered in different directions since their childhood scraps on a synthetic pitch in Roissy-en-Brie, 24 kilometres (15 miles) from the centre of the French capital.
Paul, 23 and capped 44 times by France, is the world’s most expensive footballer following his return to Manchester United from Juventus for a fee of £89.3 million ($111 million, 105.2 million euros).
Florentin, 26, opted to represent Guinea at international level and has an estimated transfer value of three million euros according to the respected Transfermarkt website.
United are the richest club in the world. Saint-Etienne are not even the richest club in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region, where Lyon are the local powerhouse.
“Even if United are a great club, anything is possible in football,” Florentin told the UEFA website this week. “The fact they’re better than us on paper doesn’t matter.”
Florentin has become accustomed to watching his little brother win from afar and the chances are he will have an opportunity to do so up close in Thursday’s last 32 first leg.
Saint-Etienne may be fifth in Ligue 1 and United sixth in the Premier League, but Jose Mourinho’s star-studded team have gone 16 league games without defeat.
It will be up to Florentin and his team-mates to try to prevent United settling into a rhythm that is often set by Paul’s driving runs and passes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Florentin has not been a regular starter this season, but in recent weeks Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier has found a place for him at left-back.
With Paul playing in central midfield, their paths may not cross too often, but with both players comfortably over six feet tall (183 centimetres), any clashes could be seismic.
– ‘He goes mad’ –
“If he arrives at full pelt and I have to tackle him, I will,” Florentin told French television show Telefoot.
“I’m not going to knock him out — he’s my brother — but if I have to commit a foul, I’ll do it.”
For Pogba Jnr., the game represents another opportunity to prove himself as a big-game player.
A guaranteed starter, he has played a leading role in United’s current resurgence, but remains without a league goal or assist in 2017.
“In terms of being the world’s most expensive player, I think he has put that to one side because it’s more an issue for the media,” says Florentin, whose twin brother, Mathias, plays for Sparta Rotterdam.
“He’s just playing his football, even though everything he does gets three or four times more attention, good or bad. He can handle all of that because of the mental strength he has had since his youth.
“He is quite irritable though. He doesn’t like to lose. His head starts buzzing when he loses. I learnt to lose and I would say that you’re not losing, but learning. But for him, when he loses, he goes mad.”
United’s other France international, Anthony Martial, knows defeat will be hard to take for whichever brother ends up on the losing side.
“They are well known for being big jokers and mickey-takers, but once they are on the field, it will be like two warriors who are going all-out to win the game,” Martial told the United website.
“If one beats the other, he’ll immediately start giving out loads of stick so they’ll be desperate to do all they can to win!”
Florentin adds: “My parents will have mixed feelings because whatever happens there will be one winner and one loser. However, there are two winners because this game will be an unforgettable occasion.”