Paul Pogba has opened up on his Muslim faith and how it helps drive his decisions in football.
The 29-year-old, who will miss the World Cup through injury, also heaped praise on England midfielder Jude Bellingham as he revealed the midfielders whom he studies to improve his own game.
Pogba returned to Juventus earlier this year following a turbulent second spell at Manchester United.
He called the decision to first leave United a decade ago the most challenging of his life and explained how religion now helps him make up his mind.
Pogba had begun turning to Islam around that time and has now spoken of his pride in his faith.
‘I think it’s important to show who you are: I’m a Muslim and proud and if I can help also people to get to know about Islam and to push the brothers and sisters to do good deeds,’ he said.
‘Why would I hide? I’m very happy with myself.’ Even if his mother, a Muslim, had mixed emotions after his conversion: ‘She was very happy and in another way she was scared… she said: “Don’t be an extremist.”’
Pogba described making the pilgrimage to Mecca as ‘the best feeling ever’. He has been several times, including following the death of his father, who had converted himself a few weeks earlier.
Speaking to the new podcast, Muslim Money Guys by Wahed, Pogba said: ‘I was very happy… he was in hospital, he had pancreatic cancer and he wasn’t a Muslim before.’
The midfielder’s faith impacts his football too. He revealed that he prays before making big decisions around his career.
‘I do it so then after I’m totally in peace with myself,’ Pogba said. ‘All the decisions I take: this is the first thing I will do, I ask – I would say – “my best friend”’
The 29-year-old, who scored in the final as France won the 2018 World Cup – ‘a dream come true’ – will miss this year’s showpiece in Qatar because of a knee injury.
Pogba has hopes of one day moving into acting but for now he will watch as many of his midfield rivals fight to win football’s greatest prize.
‘I love to look at the best players in the world, even young players – they have qualities and abilities I don’t have. I learn from those players,’ he said. ‘I’m like: “Okay, he’s better than me. But I’m going to work harder.”’
Among the midfielders he admires? ‘Toni Kroos, Marco Verratti, Thiago Alcantara, because they’re not holding midfielders and they’re not No 10, they’re box-to-box, the one that makes the game, that can make assists, can score,’ he said. ‘Right now, what I see is Bellingham… he’s doing very good and I think he will get to a very top level but Kevin De Bruyne has been there for a long time.’
Pogba used to study the likes of Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick while at United, while he also ‘loves’ Zlatan Ibrahimovic and learnt a lot from Andrea Pirlo.
The Frenchman had a ‘very good relationship’ with Cristiano Ronaldo, whose own return to United appears doomed following his explosive interview with Piers Morgan.
Pogba used to quiz the forward on his sleep, vitamins and his body, so struck was he by Ronaldo’s discipline.
’I see professional football players – like Zlatan – a lot of players are very professional, they come early, they do all their recovery and stuff like that. But someone that’s been there every single day and doesn’t stop. That’s Cristiano,’ he said.
‘It’s just his personality, he’s a winner, that’s for sure. He wants to always be right, he’s never satisfied with what he’s done, he always wants more. He always says: “I can do more. I will do more”. His motivation is crazy. What I saw for a year when I was with him, every day is a new record, a new challenge for him… he’s challenging himself. He doesn’t’ see the others, he’d say: “I need to be better than me.”’