Paul Pogba has revealed he once gave his Juventus shirt to a fan who was racially abusing him in Italy – and was then applauded by the supporter.
The Manchester United star opened up on his career, personal life and his experiences with racism in football in a new podcast series from The Times.
After a season in which racism has been a major talking point in English football, Pogba explained his own very different, almost novel, approach to tackling the abuse he and other players face on the pitch.
That approach? Smiling.
Footballers in England and Wales took matters into their own hands earlier this season when they boycotted social media over the lack of action taken against racist abuse online.
It came after multiple England players were subject to racial chanting during their Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro back in March.
Meanwhile, in April, Juventus teenager Moise Kean suffered racial abuse during a Serie A match against Cagliari, after which he was accused by team-mate Leonardo Bonucci of being partly to blame as he provoked opposition fans.
“I’ve experienced it and it’s really sad to see that on the football pitch,” Pogba said to The Times’ chief sports writer Matt Dickinson.
“The fans that do that, they have even black people in their team, so to do something like that is really low.
“They don’t respect the player, and they don’t even respect the player in their own team.
“I don’t know if they’re racist or ignorant or they just don’t want you to perform well.
“I hear a lot of things but I don’t react, I just smile.
“I have a story: once we had a game against Fiorentina and I just came out of the bench and some people were doing the monkey sound, and I said why?
“So I just gave him my shirt and they were really happy, and then at the end they applauded me.
“My reaction? I just pray for them and make people understand we just enjoy sport and enjoy playing football. I understand they want their team to win, but there are different ways to attract attention. To do something like that, and in 2019, is really low.
“The world is beautiful with a lot of colours and a lot of cultures.
“When I speak about racism, I think it’s ignorance. And you can’t really change something because it’s been there for a long time.
“You try to speak about it, but it just carries on. I don’t think you can change that in people.
“I’m sad about it, I’m not angry. I’m happy with myself. I have a Chinese friend, an Italian agent, a Brazilian lawyer, a Bolivian wife, I’m French and Guinean. All my life it’s a different culture.
“I’m just happy with myself, I enjoy playing football, I enjoy giving a smile to people. That’s it, that’s all I need in life. Don’t think about people who hate, because they just want to pull you back.”
Much has been discussed about the best way to combat racism in football, with players often saying they would walk off the pitch if they heard any abuse from the stands.
Pogba, however, does not agree with leaving the field and says his solution would be to answer the abusers on the pitch instead.
The Man United star added: “When I see the reaction of others, I just think about it and think, would I do that or not?
“When they do it again, what are you going to say? Are you going to leave the pitch? No!
“If you want to play, you play. Try to score for your team, try to win.
“At the end they will come after the game and ask for a picture.”