Abdoulaye Doucoure has branded Paul Pogba a “show-off” — but reckons his old friend’s brashness is good for the game.
Watford’s midfield heartbeat goes head-to-head with World Cup 2018 winner Pogba on Saturday, when Manchester United visit his played-four, won-four Hornets.
Doucoure, who played with Pogba as a teenager in French age-group teams as far back as 2009, admits his former team-mate has acquired a “superstar” dimension since becoming the world’s most expensive player at £89million in 2016 and scoring in France’s final triumph in Russia this summer.
Last season, United legend Paul Scholes warned Pogba was falling into the trap of thinking his price-tag gave him a licence to “show off his talent” instead of becoming a world-class box-to-box midfielder.
And Old Trafford boss Jose Mourinho claimed the World Cup was a “perfect habitat” for Pogba to unfurl his best form – which he has only produced intermittently for his club.
But Doucoure, a £6m snip with his own ambitions of a call-up to the France squad, says Pogba’s outgoing personality is “natural exuberance” which brightens the game.
He said: “I’ve known Paul since I played with him in the French Under-16 team and he was, physically, the same as he is today, because he was in advance of everyone.
“Yes, he liked to show off a little bit, but he’s a very nice guy, very natural.
“Today there is a different dimension because Paul is a superstar, but as a character he has always been the same – he likes to laugh, he likes to speak about everything. We still speak sometimes, and I sent him a message to congratulate him on winning the World Cup.
Asked to clarify his “show-off” comment, and whether he was referring to Pogba’s manner on or off the pitch, Doucoure replied: “Both – but I think he has this personality because he is good on the pitch.
“It’s good for him. It’s good to have footballers with charisma – I think players like Paul, and Benjamin Mendy as well, bring a lot of personality and show off sometimes.”
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Watford’s record, maximum-points start has left ludicrous optimists speculating they could repeat Leicester’s feat of winning the title in 2016.
One cornerstone of their 100% record has been timekeeping, with skipper Troy Deeney revealing this week players are docked £100 for every minute they are late to training.
Boss Javi Gracia’s rule has been worth thousands of pounds to the Hornets’ fines kitty, and Doucoure admitted: “I am not always on time. If I am late, I pay like everyone else.
“But we are in the best condition because everyone had a good pre-season, everyone came back with a good mentality, nobody complained about anything. Everyone wants to finish in the top 10, I think that is realistic.”