Steve McManaman made quite a name for himself in his 15-year career. An elegant and creative presence on the pitch, he represented England at the 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ and is regarded as one of his country’s most successful exports, having excelled during his time with Real Madrid, where he won two UEFA Champions League titles.
FIFA.com caught up with the roving ex-Liverpool and Manchester City wide man at the recent 11th Annual Match Against Poverty in Bern, and asked him about football’s power to help people in need, his plans for watching the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil and England’s chance of success at the tournament, which he regards as slim.
FIFA.com: You’re become something of a regular in charity matches these days. What’s your view on the Match Against Poverty?
Steve McManaman: It’s fantastic and not just because it’s a chance to catch up with old friends and colleagues. It’s always special when you get involved with United Nations initiatives, and there’s nothing like playing and raising money to help people who are having a hard time of it. The number of people who go to watch these games and the big names who turn up to play in them show just how important these causes are.
You say it’s great for you to play with old friends but what goes through your mind when you get home?
That there’s always a lot more that can be done. You can’t just turn up, help out and then forget about it the next day. We play quite a few of these matches in England, and it’s important to know that you can carry on helping out when you go home, back to your family. There are always people who need a hand and it’s important to be there for them.
Spain have got a fantastic side but Brazil are the favourites. I saw them in the Confederations Cup and they were absolutely brilliant.
The next FIFA World Cup kicks off in fewer than 100 days. How do you feel about Brazil hosting the competition?
It’s the perfect stage for the World Cup. When I think about the tournament the first thing that comes to my mind is Bobby Moore lifting the Trophy in 1966, obviously. The other thing I remember straight away is the Brazil shirt, that yellow jersey – Pele running the show in 1970, Carlos Alberto and that typical style of theirs. Then there are all the fantastic cities that are going to be hosting the World Cup. I was at South Africa 2010 and it was amazing. I enjoyed it a lot, but I’m hoping this will be the best one ever.
Are you thinking of going?
Of course I am! I’ll be in Rio in the first week of June and then I’ll be travelling around the country for five weeks. There’s no way I’m going to miss it.
What do you think about England’s chances?
For the first time in years I think expectations of how far England can go are pretty low, which is strange because people in England usually think we can win the World Cup. But we’re a long, long way away from winning it this time around. We’ve got a very difficult group, with Uruguay and Italy, and even Costa Rica will be tough. I think the team’s good enough to reach the last 16, though. That would be good.
So who are your favourites?
Spain have got a fantastic side but Brazil are the favourites. I saw them in the Confederations Cup and they were absolutely brilliant. They had their fans right behind them and I guess they’ll be getting even more support at the World Cup, though they’re in a tough group and they could get the Netherlands, Spain or Chile in the last 16. Argentina are another team to watch out for and they’ve been given an easier draw. With it being in Brazil, though, [Luiz Felipe] Scolari’s team have got to be the favourites.
Is there any player you’ll be watching more closely than the others in Brazil?
Not really. I just want to see who the star of the World Cup will be. Can [Lionel] Messi do what he does in La Liga and be the best player in the world in the biggest tournament of them all. Can Cristiano Ronaldo take Portugal to the top? Will Neymar play as well as he did at the Confederations Cup and score more great goals? Someone’s going to stand out in the World Cup and that’s the fantastic thing: seeing who it’s going to be. Will he be English? Will he be one of the Colombians, who had a great qualifying campaign? It’s all going to be very interesting.
One last question: Do you go along with the idea that you have to win the FIFA World Cup to be considered the best in the world?
No, but it helps! When Diego (Maradona) played for Argentina he had a great team around him, though I still see him as the best player of all time. It’s difficult to talk about football and compare generations. Is Pele better then Maradona? Here in Bern today we’ve got two of the very best: [Zinedine] Zidane, the top player in his day, and Ronaldo, who still holds the goalscoring record for the World Cup. It’s not easy, but if Messi wins the World Cup and shines like he can, then I think he’ll go down as the greatest of all time.