How Muhammad Ali has influenced Paul Pogba

Friday 22 October 2021 07:00

In a powerful interview with Sky Sports to celebrate Black History Month, Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has spoken passionately about his hero Muhammad Ali and how the iconic boxer has helped to shape his life so far.

We encourage all of our fans to read the Frenchman’s Q&A below, in which he speaks candidly about the racist abuse his parents endured and why he is so determined to effect change. Pogba also opens up on converting to Islam and the positive impact it has had on his life, just like his idol Ali.  

Footballers are heroes to millions, but, growing up, who was your hero?
“Muhammad Ali. He was someone that I think kind of saved lives. A hero is somebody that saves lives, that helps people, and I think that is what he did. He saved a lot of people, but not by taking somebody out of the fire, but just by giving a good message, helping the world, saying the truth when it was difficult to say, at a time when it was difficult for black people. He spoke for the black community and helped us to have freedom today.”

You are talking about one of the greatest athletes of all time, but is what he did away from the ring even more special?
“That is why he is a hero, a legend. Obviously, it was a tough time as you can imagine and my parents used to tell me the history of what he did for black people. He was a legend. Also, he was a wise man and you try to learn from those people.”
Pogba: Why Muhammad Ali is my lifelong hero Video

Pogba: Why Muhammad Ali is my lifelong hero

In an interview to celebrate Black History Month, Paul explains how Muhammad Ali has helped to shape his life...

Did you mum and dad speak to you about Muhammad Ali in particular, or just about life 40 or 50 years ago?
“My dad, when he arrived to France, he had some times when he told me he got attacked and people said some racist stuff to him when he was on the bus, and stuff like this. You have to take it and he was always calm. My dad always told me to be calm and clever, just let it go, be more intelligent than those people, so just don't react. You know who you are, you have to be proud of who you are, always. Proud of your colour, proud of who you are, always.”

What do you think about how brave Muhammad Ali was for speaking out at that time in America? That was a segregated America, so to come out and be himself, like he did…
“I think he gave us, with the way he was speaking, he was very wise and he knew how to send a message but without verbally attacking somebody, because people will say 'oh he is attacking white people', but he sent a good message and at this time when you could speak on the media, on TV, and you could get killed. He had the voice, the personality, the charisma, to say it in a jokey way, a nice way, and so people would understand and wouldn't be offended.”
I see a bit of him in you I think…
“Well, I hope so because I would say I learned a bit from him, how to be confident with yourself and just being yourself. That is something I cannot change. I like smiling, joking, laughing and dancing. This is me and I just like to be myself. Also, he is a converted man and I am converted also, so it was very interesting for me to learn about his story. Everyone has his own history so I was interested to know about his.”

Converting to Islam, from what you have read and seen, what do you think that did for him and what has it done for you?
“I think it has given me an identity, it has given me... sometimes you question your life about everything: why has this happened to me, why is this, why is that. I think Islam has given me this guide, the Quran has given me a guide, of how to be and why you are here in life. It opened my eyes more about life, about everything, about important things, more than football and more than sport, not to take things so seriously, that everything is written for you, so your destiny is your destiny, you cannot change that and you should just enjoy it.”
Pogba: My dad taught me about racism Video

Pogba: My dad taught me about racism

In an interview with Sky Sports, to celebrate Black History Month, Paul explains how his dad taught him to handle racism...

Do you think Muhammad Ali had a positive impact on how Islam is seen in the same way black people are seen?
“Yes, as a Muslim he was a Muslim that gave a good message and behaved good. Always, a Muslim wants to behave good and show the good example to the world, to all of the people. That is what our predecessors used to do and we want to do the same. We want to give to charity and just a smile to someone is a charity. You want to give this message and be a nice person. Just be a nice person to the world.”
Pogba: What Black History Month means to me Video

Pogba: What Black History Month means to me

Watch the full interview with Paul, who speaks passionately about racism in sport and the influence of Muhammad Ali...

How important would you say a role model or hero like this is, especially if you come from a group that has faced prejudice?
“Those people can influence maybe 10 kids – or maybe the whole world - but 10 kids or 100 kids will influence other kids and show them it is like this, 'look I have a friend like this, a black friend, an Indian friend, a Chinese friend,' and then it goes around and around. You know you cannot change the world, but if you can change one person then it is already enough. If I can do that to the world, it is my goal to make people happy and to make them change in a positive way, and to make them follow their dream. I think that is why I am here also, I live to help people in this world.”