CLAIREFONTAINE-EN-YVELINES/ CARDIFF: France and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba has told AFP in an interview that his international teammates give him the freedom to express himself and be the team's leader.
Pogba has faced criticism for failing to repeat his impressive performances at the World Cup for United, who have slumped early in the season.
The subject of Pogba's reportedly fraught relationship with United boss Jose Mourinho was strictly off the table for the interview at France's international training base.
United's difficult start in the Premier League all seems a long away from France's glory in Russia, but reunited again with his France teammates, Pogba was happy to recall that defender Adil Rami had described him as the team's "real leader" at the World Cup.
"It really pleased me to hear Adil say that," Pogba told AFP. "I would never say it's me, it's the squad who put me in that position, who gave me the freedom to express myself. They gave me confidence as well.
"I couldn't have done it without them. It all began like that, from our training camp. I spoke with Hugo (Lloris), Blaise (Matuidi), (Raphael) Varane, to say that this World Cup we really had to put everything in place to win it. I was really determined.”
France face Iceland in a friendly in Guingamp on Thursday and resume their Nations League campaign with a return clash at home to Germany on October 16, following a 0-0 draw in Munich last month.
Despite taking on a key leadership role at the World Cup, a growing rift between Pogba and Mourinho saw the France international stripped of the United vice-captaincy last month.
He said the France captaincy was not one of his main goals.
"I've never played in the France team to be captain, being here is already a big thing for me," he said. "You don't have to be captain in order to speak, a leader is not someone who has the armband. As a leader you can talk on the pitch but I've seen leaders who didn't necessarily talk."
Wales ready to test Spain
Spain might not have to face Gareth Bale in Thursday's glamour friendly, but Wales striker Sam Vokes insists the Real Madrid star's absence won't give the visitors an easy ride in Cardiff.
Bale is struggling with a groin injury after aggravating the problem during Real's defeat at Alaves on Saturday.
Given his links with both countries, Bale would relish playing against Spain, who feature several of his Real teammates, in the first meeting between the teams since 1985.
But with Wales having a more significant Nations League tie against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on October 16, Bale is likely to be rested against Spain to give him extra time to recover.
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