The world of football has its fair share of colorful stories both on and off the pitch. In recent days, however, brought one of the more bizarre tales to focus the sporting community on aspects of the game that are less than mainstream.
Paul Pogba needs no introduction. The French national and Juventus player scored in France’s FIFA World Cup winning final in 2018 and is a household name in football circles everywhere.
This week the superstar claimed to be a victim of his own brother's attempts to extort money from him. His brother, he alleges, tried to blackmail him with stories of his use of witchcraft and black magic on the football field and may even have resorted to violent means to achieve his ends.
Where do we start?
Let's begin with the accusations of Mathias, the lesser-known footballing brother of Paul. Mathias is the older of the two and has a far less distinguished career playing in 4th tier French clubs to earn his wage.
The two grew up together and often appear side by side in photos with third brother Florentin. All seemed to be well between them until this past weekend when Mathias released a series of videos in several languages threatening to reveal damning information about his brother Paul.
The videos were released in English, French, Spanish and Italian. Not content with threatening his own family, Mathias went on to include his brother’s agent, Rafaela Pimenta, and PSG player Kylian Mbappé.
If Mathias was hoping to blackmail his brother, it has to be pointed out that he missed the mark. Blackmail by definition needs to be conducted behind closed doors. By announcing to the world that you will reveal terrible secrets to the world about your target, your bargaining power is gone.
So is there more to this story than meets the eye?
Paul felt compelled to treat the matter with some gravity. He issued a statement, backed by his mother Yeo Moriba, and his agent Rafaela, also a victim of the videos, in relation to his brother’s threats.
He alleges that the videos are the result of his older sibling's attempts to extort money from him and should be entirely ignored. His accusations are shocking and include references to an organized gang, working with his brother that sought to capitalize on his money and fame.
In the statement, he says that the police in both France and Italy are already aware of the situation and that the matter is being considered very seriously by the authorities.
Enter the marabout
By way of response to this, Mathias revealed some of the allegations he had threatened to hold over his brother’s head. These included accusations that Paul had engaged the services of a marabout, an African practitioner of the occult, to attack fellow France player Kylian Mbappé.
The reasons for Paul's alleged use of a marabout to cast spells on Mbappé are as yet unknown. The Pogba family are also practicing Muslims which makes any use of the occult, for good or ill intentions, a prohibited activity.
To the western ear, these accusations may not sound so grave. A good luck ritual or lucky charm is not seen as anything untoward. Players regularly bless themselves or look to the heavens before penalty shootouts or after scoring a goal. So other than being a practicing Muslim, why would the use of a marabout be so potentially embarrassing to an international player of Paul Pogba's stature? The answer may lie in his family's heritage.
While Paul and his brothers are French, both of their parents come from the west African nation of Guinea and Pogba is a hero in the land of his forbears. It is here and within the African diaspora that matters involving witchcraft and the occult are taken extremely seriously and where Pogba might suffer acute embarrassment.
The 12th man
There is a saying in African football that the marabout is the 12th man on the team. In reality, there may be an entire team of marabouts supporting some players if anecdotal reports are to be trusted.
The problem of using occult practices is so widespread that some African footballing bodies have seen fit to stamp out the practice. In Senegal, no magic can be practiced in the vicinity of a stadium in order to prevent violence between supporters.
The Confederation of African Football itself has spoken out on the issue and hopes to ban the practice altogether of players using witch doctors, marabouts, and others to cast spells of attack on their opponents or good luck on their own endeavors. In practice, however, such a ban is nearly impossible.
Regardless of the outcome of all of this unpleasantness, the concern of most French fans will not be on whether their iconic mid-fielder paid a witch doctor to bring bad luck to his teammate, but if he will be fit to play for his country in Qatar in November of this year.
Not only is the star recovering from a knee injury, but we must all wonder why, if the allegations are true, that Paul Pogba chose to single out fellow France player, Kylian Mbappé, and what this will mean for the morale of Les Bleus in World Cup 2022.