For die-hard Manchester United fan Greg Rutherford it’s been a year to remember. While on the pitch things may not have been quite up to the normal high standards of the Red Devils, for long-jumper Rutherford it’s unlikely he’ll ever forget 2012.
A home Olympics was always going to be a special occasion for the Englishman, but when he flew to gold in front of a packed Olympic stadium to claim gold for Great Britain it turned the competition instantly into a career highlight.
The talkative football fan spoke at length with FIFA.com about his love of football, what it was like to step out in front of a packed Old Trafford and his tips for the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
FIFA.com: When did you start supporting United?
Greg Rutherford: My dad’s a fan as well so when I was growing up I automatically said I was a fan because my dad was. Being from Milton Keynes, some of my family are from London, so a lot of Tottenham fans too, so we get a bit of inner-family rivalry. Ultimately being a United fan is something you have to be willing to take a lot of abuse for. I try to get to as many games as I possibly can. Around training and competing it’s not as easy but it’s something I try to do as much as possible.
Do you remember your first game?
Not exactly, but I’m pretty sure it was a game in 1995 between United and Everton, I must have been 8 or 9. I just remember it being a completely different environment to anything I’d ever been involved with before, I just loved it and at that point I wanted to become a professional – as most boys do at that age – and it was something that captured my imagination a lot and it was pretty amazing.
Did you play a lot as a kid?
I did yeah, I was quite a keen footballer. At 13 I had a trial at Aston Villa, but following that I began to lose interest strangely, deciding track and field was going to be for me. For a long time it was always going to be football, but I was a bit lazy to be totally honest. I played up front, I sort of liked hanging around then charging forward with the ball and, as nine times out of ten you score one-on-ones, I think it made me look a little bit better than I was. Also being fairly quick, helped me out a bit.
What’s your favourite United memory?
My favourite memory of Manchester United was probably Ryan Giggs’ goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal, where he ran past everyone to score. My favourite memory of Old Trafford though is probably getting to go on to the pitch this year was an absolutely amazing moment. You always think, ‘were I in a different professional sport, what would it like to play at somewhere like Old Trafford’ and having the whole crowd get behind you was very special.
And who are the players that have really stood out for you?
Because I played a lot, and Paul Scholes has ginger hair as well, I always used to get called ‘Little Scholes’, I played centre-forward so we didn’t even play in the same position which was quite funny. But those players who came through while I was a boy really captivated me – Giggs, Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and the players of that era. Obviously to then go on and do the treble in 1999, with the bulk of that team, was absolutely amazing.
What about the team now, who’s catching your eye?
He’s obviously only just been purchased this year, but I think Shinji Kagawa is going to turn into a bit of a hero at United. I think with Tom Cleverley getting a bit more time too I think he could become a very, very special English player too, as I rate him quite highly again. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling too, as long as they can stay clear of the injuries they can be quite special too.
At 26-years-old you’ve never known another manager except Sir Alex Ferguson too.
He joined in 1986, and I was born in the November, so for me it’s always been Fergie, and he’s been spectacular. For me he has to go down as the greatest ever United manager, even though there was Matt Busby and all he did, having to rebuild a team post-tragedy which was obviously incredible. Still I think for what he has won in a time when football has moved forward a lot, people are definitely much fitter and with such an influx of European and world players, it has made things much harder.
How are you feeling about England’s chances of reach the FIFA World Cup™ in 2014?
World Cup qualification is a minimum, if we don’t qualify there’s some serious issues. Under Roy Hodgson I think things could be quite good, he seems to know what he’s talking about and is quite a good tactician. It’s one of those sort of wait and see situations, there are some exciting young players who have the chance to get out there and bolster the team. With England it always seem to not happen, but there’s always a chance that they could.
Looking at your achievements this summer, what was it like winning gold in front of a sell-out crowd at the Olympic Stadium?
There genuinely hasn’t been a word created that can express the emotion I was feeling at that time. It’s one thing I always wanted to do and now I’ve reached one those huge goals. It’s almost like winning the World Cup and scoring the winning goal at Wembley, everything was perfect, everything just came together and talking about it now still gives me goosebumps. Genuinely it’s just the most amazing, special feeling out there and once a word comes along that justifies it I’ll be able to describe it.
Any chance you’d trade that medal for being able to score the winning goal in a Manchester derby?
I don’t think I could swap my gold medal for anything, but if the club ever came along and needed me to play I’d be happy to take up the cause! [Laughs] While I was getting shown around I did let them know that if they need me at any point it’d be no trouble for me to make my way up.
Has your life changed much since winning your medal?
At the moment it’s been mental, I’ve been here, there and everywhere doing events and things, so life has changed completely in that way. Going forward, I have no desire to retire for a good, six, seven, eight years so I have to get back to work and back to normal, I have to do what it takes again to jump far and win more titles. It’s just made that little bit harder because people will be gunning for me more and people will want to take me out, but fortunately I quite enjoy that.
And finally, with the FIFA Ballon d’Or just around the corner, who are you tipping to walk away with an award?
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are always there and they are amazing players, it’s hard for anyone at the moment to really push through and knock them off their perch. It’ll be a close run thing but I can’t look past the usual suspects. When it comes to coaching it’s always a tough one but, with Chelsea winning the Champions League it was a bit of a turn up as everyone was pretty much handing it to Barcelona and with all the turmoil he faced, Di Matteo is a pretty good shout for the manager’s award.