If you ever visit Roissy-en-Brie, a small commune in the eastern suburbs of Paris, everyone knows Ibrahim – or “Grande”, as he is called. He is all the more famous because his name has hit the headlines in France.
Ibrahim calls himself a sorcerer, or marabout, as they are called in France. He claims to be able to cast a curse, lift a curse, bring you good luck and success, or make life miserable. As such, he is known in the African community around Paris as one of the best at what he does. A lot of people don’t believe it, but in the African culture that Paul Pogba and many other football players grew up in, marabouts like Grande are popular, influential and busy.
French football has also historically been linked to witchcraft and curses, although not always in circumstances as negative as those surrounding the Pogba family at the moment.
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In a series of new videos posted to his social media accounts, Mathias Pogba, who is currently being held in jail after being charged with attempted extortion of his brother Paul, accuses his brother of paying “more than 4 million ‘euros’ for Ibrahim’s services. since 2015. He also says that Nottingham Forest defender Serge Aurier and former France international Alou Diarra are the ones who introduced Grande to Pogba. Both players denied that was the case when asked by ESPN.
Nevertheless, Mathias alleges Paul asked Grande to protect him from injury, help France win the 2018 World Cup, neutralize PSG’s Kylian Mbappe in the 2019 Champions League second leg at Parc des Princes – Man United advanced on away goals after a 3-1 win – and ensure United progress, along with many other smaller demands.
Yet Paul Pogba told police he only consulted Grande to bring her good favors regarding certain charities in Africa. Pogba also admitted that his brother and other childhood friends blackmailed him about his relationship with Grande. The investigation found this WhatsApp message sent by Mathias to Paul, according to the newspaper Le Parisien: “Listen, it’s quite simple. Now you will transfer the money to them. [Pogba was asked to pay €13m] they asked you. Otherwise, I call Mbappé’s dad and all the media in the world and I tell all the stories… With Grande, I have everything!”
This practice of witchcraft may seem unusual to readers in England or the United States in particular, but in Africa and France it is common. Many national teams, football clubs, presidents and even players have used it or tried to use it. Some still do.
The two most famous accounts are Paris Saint-Germain, in 1997, and Senegal in the 2002 World Cup. Terenga Lions hired Ngoy Lingueul Mbaye as the tournament’s official wizard. Bruno Metsu, the team’s French coach who was well versed in African culture given his training time on the continent, was not convinced that spiritual help was really an asset. “Maybe two or three [players] are sensitive to this kind of thing, but the others treat it as a joke… [if it was effective] we would have won the Africa Cup of Nations and the World Cup a long time ago.”
And yet Senegal reached the quarter-finals – just the second African nation to go so far after Cameroon in 1994, with Ghana later matching the feat in 2010 – beating defending champions France in the opening of the tournament and writing one of the most beautiful pages. in World Cup history along the way.
French midfielder Emmanuel Petit certainly believed in it more than Metsu, telling a story to RMC Sport about this World Cup, referring to their 1-0 defeat a few years later: “A year before the 2002 World Cup, I was on a beach in France and met a Senegalese [street vendor.] He approached me and said ‘Look, the World Cup which will be played in 12 months, France will meet Senegal and Senegal will win by 1-0, because our wizards are very strong in Senegal. You will see.’
“I wasn’t sure until it really happened a year later.”
The use of PSG in 1997 is equally memorable. They had just lost in the first leg of the second qualifying round of the Champions League against Steaua Bucuresti by default (3-0) after fielding an ineligible player (Laurent Fournier). Michel Denisot, who was then president of PSG, was so desperate for his team to reach the group stages that he asked for help from Sidi, another famous wizard.
After some consultation, paying €200 each time, Sidi kept telling Denisot that he couldn’t foresee it happening in the second leg. Then, two days before the game, Sidi told Denisot: “You’re going to win 5-0, that’s for sure. I see the whole game now. The fourth goal will be scored by the No.18 in the 41st minute.” PSG won 5-0 in front of an incandescent atmosphere at the Parc des Princes. Florian Maurice, who wore No.18, scored the fourth goal in the 40th minute.
Denisot contacted Sidi several times after that game, including when he was in charge of another club, LB Chateauroux, a third-division side that enjoyed a famous run to the final of the Coupe de France 2003- 04. They beat Ligue 1 titans AS Monaco before losing 1-0 to PSG across all teams in the final.
Denisot writes in “Brèves de vies”, his memoirs from 2014: “I continued to use the talents of my marabout, including once for the Châteauroux club, the year they went to the Coupe de France final. France. Until he was a little wrong on the last forecast, and again I relied exclusively on logical and directly controllable parameters.”
At Metz, Sochaux, Montpellier and many other French clubs, as well as across Africa, mystics have been employed to help. In Laval, the former defender of the France team and Chelsea Frank Leboeuf saw it with his own eyes.
“My teammate was Pierre Aubame [Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s father] and he couldn’t walk,” the 1998 World Cup winner told ESPN. “He was convinced there was a curse on him. He went to many doctors and was no better. I saw him consult a marabout who touched his leg and did all sorts of black magic and Aubame was cured, just like that. It was amazing.”
There are so many stakes in football, both for individual players but also for clubs and their owners, that there will always be opportunities for marabouts to get involved in the game. The Pogba saga comes to shed light on a practice that many around the world didn’t even know existed.