France and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has told AFP in an interview that his international teammates give him the freedom to express himself and be the team’s leader.
Pogba has faced criticism for failing to repeat his impressive performances at the World Cup for United, who have slumped early in the season.
The subject of Pogba’s reportedly fraught relationship with United boss Jose Mourinho was strictly off the table for the interview at France’s international training base.
United’s difficult start in the Premier League all seems a long away from France’s glory in Russia, but reunited again with his France teammates, Pogba was happy to recall that defender Adil Rami had described him as the team’s “real leader” at the World Cup.
“It really pleased me to hear Adil say that,” Pogba told AFP. “I would never say it’s me, it’s the squad who put me in that position, who gave me the freedom to express myself. They gave me confidence as well.
“I couldn’t have done it without them. It all began like that, from our training camp. I spoke with Hugo (Lloris), Blaise (Matuidi), (Raphael) Varane, to say that this World Cup we really had to put everything in place to win it. I was really determined.”
Pogba made his France debut in 2013, and has racked up 62 caps while appearing at three major tournaments.
“With my age, 25 years old, I’m between the two sets of players, the oldest and the youngest. That allows me to relay messages and have the chance to be heard,” he said.
“I could say what I felt, give messages and pass them on from the older players to the younger ones. I was the go-between you could say.”
– Ballon d’Or –
France face Iceland in a friendly in Guingamp on Thursday and resume their Nations League campaign with a return clash at home to Germany on October 16, following a 0-0 draw in Munich last month.
Despite taking on a key leadership role at the World Cup, a growing rift between Pogba and Mourinho saw the France international stripped of the United vice-captaincy last month.
He said the France captaincy was not one of his main goals.
“I’ve never played in the France team to be captain, being here is already a big thing for me,” he said.
“You don’t have to be captain in order to speak, a leader is not someone who has the armband. As a leader you can talk on the pitch but I’ve seen leaders who didn’t necessarily talk.”
He cited former Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo, a teammate of Pogba’s at Juventus, as someone who could be relied upon to “show you the way on the pitch”.
Pogba was one of six players in Didier Deschamps’ squad to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or on Monday, and he believes the prize should go to one of his France teammates.
“It’s all I hope for whatever happens, because there are a lot of them who deserve it,” he said.
“I’m not going to get into it, whether it’s (Antoine) Griezmann, Kylian (Mbappe) or Raphael who deserve it much more than me.
“I can’t pick one of them, but I sincerely hope it’ll be one of those three, or even four because there’s also NG (N’Golo Kante).”