With over 50 million albums sold and 14 chart-topping hits, Shane Filan knows all about what it is to be No1. Yet for this year’s FIFA Ballon D’Or, the former Westlife frontman is backing a new entry to be crowned as the World Player of the Year.
FIFA.com spoke to Filan while he was touring in Asia, promoting his new, critically-acclaimed album You and Me. It’s the Irishman’s first venture into the solo world since Westlife separated amicably last year and, so far, it’s proven to be an extremely successful one.
In this exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Filan chats about his love of football, his support for Manchester United and hometown team Sligo Rovers as well as his own footballing prowess.
FIFA.com: Shane, what’s scarier: starting out on your own musically away from Westlife or stepping out onto Old Trafford’s pitch?
Shane Filan: Stepping out onto Old Trafford. I was lucky enough to do it a few years ago with Soccer Aid. I got to play with Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ryan Giggs in midfield. I was playing right-wing and they were the other three players in the middle of the park. To this day, it’s one of the most memorable moments in my life. My mates, who are mostly Manchester United fans, kept telling me, “Never mind the music, this is your greatest achievement!”
You even scored that day, didn’t you?
Yes, a penalty. I asked Giggs for some advice on how to hit it with the crowd looking at me. He said, “Keep it low, and hit it as hard as you can into one of the corners. Pick a corner, don’t change your mind, and keep it low because the keeper will have to get down to it.” I hit it with my left foot. It was curling away from the keeper the whole way and it went just inside the post and into the side netting. I went berserk celebrating. I came back and saw Zidane and Giggs clapping. I had gone off and done this mad celebration on my own and when I ran back to the team I said, “Was that a bit much?” There were a few nods!
It's amazing how much professional footballers want to win every game, no matter the setting, isn’t it?
They were so competitive!It was obviously for charity but they still all wanted to win. They have that competitive streak their whole life and it’s not like they’re just going to change. They get stuck in.
Did you ever play football yourself?
I was involved in an 11-a-side league involving 20 teams in my hometown of Sligo. The standard was pretty high, I have to say. I played for three years. We won the league the first year, finished second in my second year, and then the last year we won it again. I was up front the third year and I scored 20 goals in 20 games. I won the top scorer trophy and its right up there with all of my No1 hits! I didn’t play the next season because I was a bit busier with Westlife, but I felt I had to retire with the 20 goals.
You mentioned Sligo there. Do you follow the fortunes of your hometown club, Sligo Rovers?
Of course I support Sligo Rovers. I’ve grown up with Sligo Rovers my whole life. The last four or five years we’ve had amazing success. We won the league for the first time in 37 years last year, and now the FAI Cup this year. I’m very proud of them.
What is your first memory of professional football?
My first major memory was of Ray Houghton scoring against England in EURO 88. Obviously it was a massive game, Ireland versus England, and we don’t get to beat England too often, so to beat them 1-0 in a major tournament was unbelievable. After that Italia ’90 was the first World Cup that I really remember. It was a really hot summer in Ireland and I remember being away at my cousins and watching the games, especially the England, Romania and Italy matches. World Cups are brilliant and I can’t wait until we qualify again. Hopefully they’ll get their act together now with a new manager and with a lot of young players coming through we’ll be in tournaments in the future.
How do you think the Martin O’Neill-Roy Keane partnership will work?
I was delighted when I heard Roy Keane was involved. I think he is somebody who can scare the players in a good way to make them to focus and play better. It will be very interesting, but it’s very exciting for Irish football to have them in charge. Martin is a great manager and Roy Keane has so much experience with the Irish squad. I can’t wait to see how they do.
As a supporter of the boys in green, you must have loved Keane as a player?
‘Keano’ is a legend. It’s debatable, but he’s probably the best Irish player ever. It’s absolutely incredible what he achieved. Manchester United are missing a player like him at the moment.
Finally, who do you think will win the FIFA Ballon d’Or this year?
Personally speaking, Ronaldo. The stuff he does sometimes is ridiculous. Messi is the same, but they’re very different players. If I had to sign one player for Manchester United, it would probably be Ronaldo. He can play a winger, up front, he can play in the hole, he can play anywhere he wants and he still scores goals. Also, it’d be great to see Ronaldo win it this time after Messi has won it four years in a row. I think he deserves it.