Milan striker M’Baye Niang reveals his advice to old friend Paul Pogba at Manchester United and how he’d deal with racist abuse.
“I only got to play with Pogba in an Under-19 Euro game against Sweden, and we lost… But we’ve known each other a long time, as he was at Le Havre, me at Caen, aged 13 we’d face off in the youth tournaments.
“We do still keep in touch, but try not to talk about football. Lately he’s been telling me it’s tough, but he feels Jose Mourinho has faith in him.
“I tell him not to get distracted by criticism. Manchester United paid a lot of money and therefore expect a lot from him. All he needs is one goal from 30 metres out and he’ll be worth €100m again.”
Niang also discussed how he would deal with racist abuse from the stands during a match.
“Racism can only exist in the world of stupid people. They are also unhappy, because who goes to a stadium in order to make monkey noises if he’s not deeply unhappy in his life? He’s either unhappy or has literally nothing better to do.
“Unfortunately, all you can do is ignore them and carry on, otherwise you just end up hurting yourself. If one day they do insult me – and so far it has never happened, on or off the field – then I will never abandon the match.
“If the referee decides to interrupt play, I’ll respect that, but it will not be my decision. You can hurt racists on the pitch with your goals. If you abandon the game, it means they have won.”
Niang was born and raised his France, but his parents Omar and Aisha are from Senegal.
“I feel that I am 100 per cent Parisian and French, but when I went to Dakar to see where my parents were born, I realised then how fortunate I have been.
“There is so much poverty there and almost everyone dreams of becoming a football player. Being there for a week gave me even more strength to achieve the dream I started at Les Mureaux, where my parents live and where I was until the age of 13.
“As a kid I’d only to into Paris for Disneyland and the Eiffel Tower. Now it’s my city, the city where I think I will live once I stop my playing career.
“It all started when I was 16 years old and playing for the Caen youth team. The senior Caen squad risked getting relegated into Ligue 2 and I kept telling my teammates they needed me to stay up.
“So I wrote a letter to Franck Dumas, the Coach at the time, and he’s still got it today. He called me in the Monday morning and said I wasn’t going to school, as I had to join the senior squad.
“I scored in my third game, we secured safety in the penultimate round, but it didn’t stop him keeping a close eye on me. I used to drive to training without a licence and he even went so far as to send the police to my house with sirens blazing, pretending to haul me into prison. For a while, I did stop acting crazy…”
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