Pogba: Promoting youth is in the club's culture
Paul Pogba says it's "unbelievable" that Manchester United have had a homegrown player in every matchday squad since 1937 and the midfielder admits he is proud to be part of such a phenomenal record.
Pogba spoke to MUTV's Stewart Gardner in an exclusive interview this week and reflected on his time coming up through United's youth ranks after he arrived at the club in 2009.
The World Cup winner praised the club's ethos and culture of developing young talent and he believes the Reds' current crop have a great opportunity to cement their place in United's history.
Paul, this weekend, we celebrate the 4,000th consecutive match of there being a youth-team graduate in a first-team matchday squad going back to 1937 – can you believe that record?
"Where was I then [in 1937]?! [Laughs] It’s unbelievable and it shows the identity of this club and the culture of this club. We’ve always talked about youth players coming into the first team and it’s just carried on. It’s something that is in this club, it’s incredible it’s been happening since 1937. You want to carry this on for the young players and the next generation to go and play in the first team."
When you joined Academy 10 years ago as a 16-year-old, what were your impressions of it when you first arrived?
"When I arrived here, everything felt big! The training ground was big, all the players were big, the pitch was big, everything was big and I had my eyes open the whole time. Then I put the shirt on for the first time and I said: ‘Wow, I came to Manchester United’, I just couldn’t believe it. When I started training with the first team, I was 17, and I remember Vida [Nemanja Vidic] was there and Ji-sung Park and I touched Vida and I saw how tough and how strong he was! I knew then I had to work hard to get into the first team. It was a really great experience as a young kid to come here at 16 and see everything so big, and see all these top players and a top manager. To be there, having them sat next to us around the training ground, was a dream come true."
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How did the club help you when you came over? Presumably, you didn’t speak much English and it must have been hard to move to a new country initially?
"Yes it was. I couldn’t speak much English but I went to school here so it helped me a lot. Just talking with the guys in the dressing room helped me, that’s when you learn the most, I think. Obviously, you learn the naughty words first [laughs] and all the players really helped me. I remember I was with Joshua King a lot and he helped me improve my English, also Ryan Tunnicliffe and Jesse [Lingard] as well, although I couldn’t understand Jesse’s English and I still don’t! [Laughs] He speaks so fast with a Mancunian accent and I have to try to figure out what he’s saying! He was one who helped me a lot but everyone did."
Which coaches stand out as being very important to you in those early days?
"I was with Jim Ryan and Paul McGuinness, they helped me a lot, Warren Joyce, as well, after that. For a French guy coming here at 16 to understand another culture and another way of playing football, you needed a bit of time to adapt and they all really helped me, as did the players. It felt great to be trained by those people and I think the last time we won the Youth Cup was under Paul and Jim, they helped us improve a lot."
When you first come here do you get taught about the history of the club?
"Yes. Jim Ryan talked to me a lot about that. He used to play for United and he used to tell me: ‘At this club, young players have a chance to get into the first team’. He said that was the identity of the club. He talked about training hard, passing the ball, pass and run, all this stuff… Pat [Evra] was here too, Rio [Ferdinand] as well and even Berba [Dimitar Berbatov] talked to me a lot about it all. They help you understand how it is here, Pat talked to me a lot because he’s French. Obviously the boss, Sir Alex Ferguson, talked to me as well and he came to see us as well when we were playing in the Reserves or the FA Youth Cup. He used to give us messages and he’d also take us [on trips] for cup games. It shows the history this club has with involving young players and how it’s always been like that."
Winning the Youth Cup was a really big deal wasn’t it - in 2011 against Sheffield United…
"Harry [Maguire] was there [for Sheffield United]! We had a good team and a lot of players who played in the first team or went to other clubs. Will Keane played in the first team then he went to Hull, Mike Keane is at Everton, Jesse, myself and Sam Johnstone, Tyler Blackett, Rav [Ravel Morrison], Larnell [Cole], Ryan Tunnicliffe, they’re still playing… we had a really decent team."
How important do you think your grounding and upbringing in the Academy has been to your development in becoming the sort of the player that you are now?
"From the start, like I said, when I arrived here, they show you the way of playing. All the coaches show you how to prepare yourself to get into the first team. Warren Joyce used to train us very hard to be ready for the first team. The first team always used to play with 4-4-2, so we used to do the same meaning when you got the chance to be with the first team you could play and not be lost on the pitch."
Ole clearly has a lot of faith in young players – how important is it that the pathway is there for players to continue to come up through the Academy into the first team?
"I’ve said to a lot of the young players who have been with the first team: ‘Guys, you don’t know how lucky you are’. Unfortunately for us, we’ve had a lot of injured players and it’s therefore a big chance for the young players to be involved with the first team. They have the chance to do well and stay there. So I said to them: ‘Take this luck and take this opportunity because it’s important until the other players come back fit’. You never know, there could be an injured player and a young player comes in and plays a great game and they stay with the first team until the end of their career. So I’ve told them: ‘Guys, be ready and always take the opportunity’. If they have quality to be with the first team then why not take the opportunity and play and enjoy yourself?"
The likes of Brandon, Mason and others have been doing this haven’t they?
"Yes. Mason, since the first training session that I saw him in, and Brandie [Brandon Williams], Jimmy [Garner], Angel [Gomes], Chongy [Tahith Chong] and all the players. Axel as well, although I don’t see him as a young guy, for me, he has been in the first team for a long time, Timo [Tim Fosu-Mensah] as well, but the younger ones, they have the quality, they have everything to be in the first team. They’ve been playing and having some minutes and they should enjoy it when they’re on the pitch and work hard. Mason is scoring goals, Brandie has been playing games like he’s been there for six months already. This is about what the club is about and what the manager wants."
Finally, these guys clearly look up to you…
"I feel old now!" [Laughs]
You’re only 26, but do you feel you can help them and advise them?
"I think and I hope I can help them. This is one of the biggest clubs in the world and maybe the biggest club in history and they have the chance to be in this club. So I say to them: ‘Take your chance, play, you are young, you have quality, you have nothing to be afraid of’. I hope I can give them the good example when I’m on the pitch and outside the pitch and, even though I don’t see myself as old, I hope that the young players will, one day, come and take my position [when I finish playing]. That’s how it is, I won’t play forever. We all give our best on the pitch and I hope these young players will become legends here at the club, they have to enjoy it and really appreciate the chance they have here."
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