Players are having their personality stripped away in the name of football tribalism. It’s time to stop


Let us reflect for a moment on the dreadful week football has had, and the difficult questions that have spawned from those actions and words.

Raheem Sterling has sparked very real debate not just in football, but across the nation, when he took to social media to call the media into question after fueling the fire for racism. And the abuse his post provoked is even more jarring. It’s disgusting that it had to come to that.

So imagine my reaction when on Sunday afternoon a work colleague of mine uttered: “Paul Pogba is everything that is wrong with modern football.”

Such was my shock that I was tentative to repeat what I had just heard, lest I mishear and accuse somebody of saying something so absurd. But he doubled down.

“His attitude is bad, and he dyed his hair blue when he plays for United. It’s weird.”

He was referring to when Pogba opted for a blue streak through his hair while on international duty with France. That the World Cup winner returned to club duty with the style still in tact before the Manchester derby was enough to cause unnecessary fuss.

Pogba would go on to play his best game in a Man United shirt on the derby in question, dragging Jose Mourinho’s men from 2-0 down to win 3-2 and scoring a brace in the process. That he had blue in his hair mattered not. He wore a red shirt and put the team on his back.

Forget the lack of awareness of one thinking the blue represented Manchester City and nothing else. It could not possibly be the blue of France.

Pogba had blue dye in his hair while on international duty with France (photo credit: Getty).

The issue highlights an absurd tribalism in football, and it is being used to attack players for their personalities and, perhaps worse, question their character.

Pogba has often been an easy target for the media and fans alike. The former Juventus midfielder has not reached the dizzying heights so many expected, rightly or wrongly, when he returned to United.

Regardless of his impact on the pitch, however, Pogba is entitled to live his life like those who judge him on a daily basis are entitled to live theirs.

You only have to look as far as Sky Sports and Graham Souness for regular hot takes on Pogba. During an interview with The Sunday Times the former Liverpool manager said:

“Paul Pogba plays for himself, it’s all about how cool he looks, showing us how clever he is.”

Graeme Souness in The Sunday Times

The Sky Sports pundit called into question the Frenchman’s attitude again after their 3-0 victory over Young Boys in the Champions League in September: 

“I bet he is a really nice guy but I wonder if he treats football as a bit of a joke.

“I wonder if he trains properly every day, that is a stab at the dark at something that could improve.”

Graeme Souness on Virgin Media Sport

Those who call into question Pogba’s attitude are after an easy target. What made United fork out the massive transfer fee to bring him back was partly his potential to blossom but also his track record while with Juventus, a constant driving force of one of the best teams in Europe.

Couple that with Pogba’s ability to speak four languages fluently (English, Italian, Spanish and, of course, French) and it presents a man who has a great aptitude for his profession and willingness to adapt. Not the opposite, and certainly not to be defined by a streak of colour in his hair.

Even the usually well-thought out Gary Neville lambasted the United midfielder’s choice of hair colour before the Manchester derby:

“The problem with Pogba is he doesn’t help himself,

“He’s got a big job to do, he’s got to be serious about football/

“Coming out here with blue hair today, win and it’s fine, lose and it will be talked about forever more by City and United fans. It’s ridiculous.”

Gary Neville on Sky Sports

Yet it is this tribalism, the want to demonise a player for being outgoing on social media and being courageous enough to try flicks and tricks on the pitch, that has worked to cast the 25-year-old to a point where some feel he is ‘everything that is wrong with modern football’.

Sport is facing testing times. Especially around black athletes. In America, this came to ahead after the President of the United States, Donald Trump consistently attacked black athletes in the NFL and NBA.

The tensions spurred the athletes to a cause: ‘More Than An Athlete’. A movement spearheaded by LeBron James, the movement worked to showcase that athletes are not robots.

It was a watershed moment for many. An athlete’s hair, musical taste, hobbies or social media activity does not define them as an athlete or person.

As much as sport demands loyalty from its athletes, the athletes themselves get no loyalty from sport. Long gone are the days of players spending most of their careers representing one badge and swearing their allegiance to it with their life. Or so it would come across.

Football tribalism is still alive and well, it has simply migrated into social media timelines and comment sections.

Pogba is far from ‘everything that is wrong with modern football.’ His choice of hair was one of fashion, not loyalty. It is time we got over it, he is more than an athlete.


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