UNITED FACE SAINT-ETIENNE
No love lost as Pogba brothers eye Europa clash
Brothers Paul and Florentin Pogba face off in Thursday’s last-32 Europa League first leg at Old Trafford
London — 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 Thursday’s last-32 Europa League first leg.
"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, 24km 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 £89.3m.
Florentin, 26, opted to represent Guinea at international level and has an estimated transfer value of €3m.
Manchester 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 said. "The fact they’re better than us on paper doesn’t matter."
Saint-Etienne may be fifth in Ligue 1 and Manchester 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 teammates to try to prevent Manchester 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 the player at left back.
With Paul playing in central midfield, the brothers’ paths may not cross too often, but with both players comfortably over 1.83m tall, any clashes could be seismic.
"If he arrives at full pelt and I have to tackle him, I will," Florentin said. "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 high-pressure 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 he 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."