Having played for both Liverpool and Real Madrid, as well as earning 37 international caps in one of the strongest England teams in the last 30 years, Steve McManaman is well qualified to analyse the current events at UEFA EURO 2012.
The 40-year-old former midfielder, who is working at the tournament as a television pundit, took time out to speak exclusively to FIFA.com about his county's chances ahead of their pivotal match against Ukraine, the importance of Wayne Rooney as well as the Real Madrid - Barcelona rivalry.
FIFA.com: What have you made of the tournament so far?
Steve McManaman: I'm really enjoying it. There have been some great games until now and the upcoming matches promise to be even better. It's been a great tournament so far. On the whole the level has been pretty good considering what it's normally like at this stage of important competitions.
You were part of the last English team to reach a UEFA European Championship semi-final in 1996. How does the current side compare?
They're completely different. This English team has only played two matches, but back then we didn't start off too strongly, so comparatively they're doing better this time. If they want to go far I think they need to raise their game. That's what happened in 1996, we got better with each match. I hope the same happens again.
Do you think the lack of pressure his helping the team?
There's no doubt that they're only considered outsiders for tournament and I think the lack of expectations could help them. I hope they keep gaining in confidence, qualify for the second round and then who knows what might happen. England are a very well organised side and won't be easy for anybody.
On top of that, Wayne Rooney is available once more against Ukraine. Will he be the key?
I hope so. I know he's desperate to play. He's very well rested and that'll help him have a great tournament.
Do you think Roy Hodgson is doing a good job as coach considering the short amount of time he's had to prepare the team?
I think so. Ideally he'd have had at least six months, but we can't change the situation and I think he's doing the best he possibly can. At the end of the day you have to wait until the tournament's over to properly evaluate if it was good or not.
How far would England have to get in the tournament for you to be satisfied?
I think they need to get to the knockout rounds first and then it'll depend on the next opponent. If they face Spain and lose, that's not such a big deal because we're talking about one of the best teams in the world and the title favourites. If it's a different opponent, we'll have to see, but we need to get there first. I think it's a transitional tournament for England and that's one of the reasons why the expectations are so low. It's a young team and it would be ideal if the experience helped them to arrive at the World Cup in Brazil in peak form.
And of those young players, who do you think has the potential to stand out at EURO 2012?
I think Wayne Rooney's still pretty young! But there are a lot. This England team has many interesting talents: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck… I'm not saying they're going to be stars, but they will become better players thanks to the European Championship.
You mentioned Spain and you know Spanish football well. Do you believe the team is at the same level as the FIFA World Cup™ winning side of 2010 or of the EURO 2008 champions?
I think it's almost as good as the previous sides. Obviously they're missing a vital player in David Villa, but the quality of the rest of the squad means they are of course still favourites to win, there's no doubt about it.
As a former Real Madrid player, do you think the rivalry that exists between Barcelona and Madrid could affect the Spanish side at EURO 2012?
Not at all. I think there have always been great rivalries everywhere, but they get put to one side with the national team. It was around in 2008 and still existed in 2010 and there was no problem. I believe Vicente del Bosque is the perfect kind of coach to sort out issues like that and bring the squad together.
And finally, do you think that Real Madrid and Barcelona will continue to dominate world football?
No. They didn't really dominate this year because they didn't even reach the final of the Champions League. I think Manchester City will keep investing in order to win that title and there'll be other teams like Manchester United and Chelsea, who have already brought in some new players. Real versus Barça will continue to dominate in Spain, but in Europe? I think the gap is closing all the time.