Soccer ball

Josh Norman loves PSG, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and his soccer ball

Redskins practice is over and Josh Norman plays a pass to me. I wear moccasins, but I do my best to trap the ball and send it back to the highest-paid defensive back in the league.

“I love football,” I say to Norman.

“Oh, I couldn’t tell,” Norman said.

This is the story of football’s strongest bond: Josh Norman and his soccer ball. He brings it practically everywhere he goes. When he trains he always has it. When he is with teammates, he passes the baton to them. “And when I’m in the house,” Norman said, “I hit him against a wall. ”

Norman is one of the best football players. At 29, the Pro Bowler is a corner of confinement. Only two NFL players allow fewer receptions per snap this season, per Pro Football Focus, and only seven allow fewer receiving yards per snap. His $ 20 million cap hit this year is $ 3 million more than any other defensive back in the NFL, but his most valuable possession is a white Adidas football with multi-colored stripes, a replica of what ‘they used in French Ligue 1 last season.

As Norman puts it, the ball isn’t just an obsession, it’s a useful tool. While normal soccer drills are important, they are also repetitive. Norman thinks they just don’t give your feet the kind of adaptability and improvisational skills that a soccer ball might play.

“It helps my feet,” Norman said. “My footwork is essential to what I do in my career. I try to protect the receivers and I have to keep my feet moving so I keep my feet moving with the ball.

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It’s not just a training tool, however. When the team reflects on the training ground after practice, Norman loves to pass the ball to an unsuspecting teammate just to see how he reacts, like what he did to me.

“I just like getting the guys involved – I think it’s about social skills. You pass it on to them, chat with them and you can also see their footwork, see who is doing a good job, ”Norman said. “I started implementing my databases with it because it makes the footwork easier. If you can do different things on the pitch with the ball, if you can [Norman makes some dramatic cutting noises], you say, “Oh, okay, maybe that footwork has something to do with that.” ”

Many of his teammates benefit from it.

“He’s sharing the ball with everyone,” defensive back DJ Swearinger said. “It’s something that creates team bonds. This is how he connects with everyone on the team.

Others have mixed opinions.

“I can’t kick the soccer ball,” said defensive back Deshazor Everett. “I don’t want to be involved because I would be the guy who walks on the ball and slides and falls.”

In 2000 Norman, like most children, started playing FIFA With his brother. He developed an appreciation for football through video games, but became obsessed in the summer of 2015, when PSG played an exhibition game in Charlotte while Norman was still with the Carolina Panthers. He went to the game, met PSG star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and decided he should see a game in Paris on his own.

“I’ve been rocking with them ever since,” Norman said. He befriended Ibrahimovic and attended the Swedish superstar’s last home game with the club in 2016. “He gave me some advice here and there,” Norman said. He has trained with PSG for two consecutive offseason now. He dated stars like Manchester United’s Paul Pogba.

“These guys don’t think [American football players] can do a lot in the field, ”said Norman. He was therefore happy to prove himself this summer against PSG goalkeeper Alphonse Areola. “I was shooting with Areola and we decided to shoot on goal,” he said. “I hit three out of five. I continued to install it [Norman again makes some dramatic cutting noises] and rating. The ones I missed were largely to the left. He didn’t block any of them.

Like most of us Norman is better FIFA than real football.

“It breaks me pretty well,” Swearinger said.

Norman claims he is by far the best in Washington FIFA player.

“I played all FIFA leads the team, ”said Norman. “I don’t know who’s second because they’re all fighting for second place, and if you’re first you don’t look down.”

But not everyone is so sure. During training camp, Su’a Cravens, who is not currently with the squad, told me that he beat Norman 3-0 twice before the Browns-Redskins game last October and that Norman had then sworn not to play it.

Norman has a different version of the story: “I received an entrance fee of $ 200. If you don’t pay the fees you can’t play because I’m the best.

Whatever happened in between, Norman takes the “entrance fees” very seriously. He told me he was upset that an undrafted free agent, Nico Marley, wanted to play against him during camp. “I told him his registration fee was $ 500. You can’t come from the bottom and expect to play the best.

For all of Norman’s speeches on his FIFA in good faith he was humbled by the beautiful game. “Right now I’m working on my bicycle kick,” Norman said. “It’s not been going very well lately. Rather than wait for someone to do a few crosses for him, Norman found another solution: “I bought a machine that throws the ball at me. I got it a few months ago.

As you can imagine, Tom Hanks-in- de NormanCastaway The relationship with his ball sparked a lot of jokes around the Washington facilities, but as he became more adept with the ball at his feet, the jibes started to go away.

“You get the jokes, but it’s not like, ‘What is that bullet doing here? It’s more, ‘You can’t do nothing with that bullet.’ But once they see me, they understand, ”Norman said. “So there are no more jokes.”