Ryan Tunnicliffe isn’t fazed in the slightest about the prospect of going head-to-head with Paul Pogba, the costliest footballer of all-time, when Wigan Athletic travel to Manchester United in the FA Cup on Sunday.
He’ll just treat the game like a kickabout with one of his best mates in the local park.
Which is handy, because Pogba happens to be one of Tunnicliffe’s best mates, with whom he used to kick a ball around Old Trafford during their time together in the United junior ranks.
“Obviously Pogba – and Jesse Lingard – I grew up with in the youth team, we played a lot of games together, we still talk now, we’re still close friends,” Tunnicliffe told the Observer.
“It’s weird because I’ll get a text off Jesse or Pogba, and one of my mates will see it, and lose their mind that the world’s most expensive footballer is texting me.
“But I don’t see them like that, I still see them as mates I grew up with.
“I’ve known Pogba since we were 16, so he’s just a good mate, he’s not a star – even though he is.
“Growing up you could see he had amazing talent, even though he felt he had to leave United to go and kickstart his career.
“You can’t really argue with that decision, because you only have to look where he is now. Being a mate I’m obviously proud of him and happy for him, and long may it continue.”
While the world sees Pogba as the footballing icon who cost United £89million when they re-signed him from Juventus last summer, Tunnicliffe – who rejoined Latics last week on loan from Fulham – still remembers the slight French teenager who arrived in England almost a decade ago.
“Ever since he stepped through the door I got on with him very well,” Tunnicliffe revealed.
“If you ask anyone who knows him they’ll say the same – he’s fun, happy-go-lucky, always dancing, always shouting, which makes you even more happy for him, that he’s not some arrogant person who’s suddenly got this great life.
“He’s put in the hard work and he deserves everything he gets. It was a bit difficult to stay in touch when he went to Italy, because he obviously had a lot of stuff going on.
“But since he’s been back, we’ve spoke quite a bit, and it’s great to still have him as a friend, he’s a great guy.
“Growing up he made life a lot easier for me – if you were ever in a sticky situation you’d just fire the ball at him and usually he’d get you out of it. I’m sure if you ask him he’d say I did the same for him, I did all his running!
“He had the skills, I did all the work, so it was a good partnership in midfield.”
While the duo will inevitably catch up before and after the game, Tunnicliffe insists the friendship will be on hold for the duration of the 90 minutes.
“I can’t wait to be honest,” Tunnicliffe added. “If I do play, he’ll know what I’m coming to do, he knows me inside out as a player, having played so many games together.
“That’ll be my attitude - to get stuck in to him, to kick him, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to the game as much as I am.”