Manchester United will count cost if Pogba takes after idol Anelka
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 Frenchman with whom he has never played in the same team but who, since the two share Parisian roots, 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 £89m 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 friend of Anelka.
Evra, Pogba said, is also the individual to whom he most looks for advice. “He’s family. That’s how I see him,” Pogba said. “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 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 Sir 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 told ‘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.
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. He made it clear that it is not the world as he once knew it.
“I think football is like that today,” the 35-year-old said. “When I started to play football there was no social media, none of these things. But it’s part of the game now. What is too much? What is too less? We don’t know. We just follow the game.”
The two share an agent, Raiola, and know each other so of course there would be nothing off message.
“Pressure is something I enjoy,” he added. “I don’t know Paul personally to be 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 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.