Which fan doesn't dream about receiving a letter from their footballing idol? For children at a number of orphanages in Russia, this dream is about to come true during the festive season.
Thanks to the charity initiative “A New Year's Fairy Tale” – organised by the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee in collaboration with FIFA – World Cup fans from children's homes in the 11 host cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ will get the opportunity to write to world-renowned football stars. In response, they'll receive a personalised letter with Christmas and New Year's wishes, plus an autograph to keep as a souvenir.
“I've got so many questions for Neymar,” declared 14-year-old Nikita from the Children's Sanatorium No. 48 in Moscow. “What does he do in training? How did he become such a star? I need to think about what I'm going to ask him.”
“I'm a Juventus fan so I wrote to Fabio Cannavaro,” revealed 18-year-old Mikhail from Orphanage No. 51. “I said I want him to carry on playing, training or doing whatever makes him happiest. I also asked him to send a signed football shirt.”
Legendary German footballer Lothar Matthaus kicked the project off on 21 December by visiting various children's homes in the Russian capital. The youngsters put some tough questions to the veteran of five World Cups, asking him not only what it felt like to win Italy 1990 but also how he dealt with defeats – specifically Bayern Munich's loss to Manchester United in the 1999 UEFA Champions League final. That question in particular almost caught Matthaus off-guard.
“Winning the World Cup is a long, hard journey and it's impossible to describe the feeling of lifting the World Cup trophy above your head. However, victories and defeats go hand-in-hand in life and in football. I was just as happy to win Italy 1990 as I was upset we lost that game against United.”
The former captain of the Germany national team was also asked about his relationship with Diego Maradona.
“I was lucky enough to play against him quite a few times, both at club level and on the international stage,” Matthaus said. “We always treated each other with respect. He'd say that I was the best and I'd always reply that actually he was. I'll tell you a secret though: I was the better player! Just don't say that to Maradona!”
I am delighted to be involved in this event because it's really important to share a bit of warmth with those who need it the most.
The World Cup winner's tongue-in-cheek comments were well-received by the children, who were left in awe after meeting him.
“I thought he would be stern, but Matthaus is a really positive guy and easy to talk with. We were able to ask as much as we liked,” said Mikhail.
Nikita also took a lot from the encounter: “It's amazing that such an icon of the game would have no problems coming all the way from Germany just for our sake. I liked his stories from his personal life most of all – about how you need to train hard and keep focused on your aims to achieve results.”
The children surprised the former player with their in-depth knowledge on both international and German football. For example, names like Manuel Neuer, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Thomas Muller rolled easily off their tongues.
“I am delighted to be involved in this event because it's really important to share a bit of warmth with those who need it the most. Football possesses the unique ability of being able to bring people together and spread positive emotions. I'm happy we'll be able to reinforce this notion once again.”
When saying goodbye, Matthaus gave the orphanage a signed football: “I hope you can cover this ball with autographs from famous players. A whole host of football stars from all over the planet will be coming here for the World Cup.”
“A New Year's Fairy Tale” is set to visit all 11 Russia 2018 host cities and Aleksandr Kerzhakov has already paid a visit to the residents of Orphanage No. 23 in Saint Petersburg. “Seeing children laugh and smile is better than any awards or medals,” said the Russia national team striker. “I hope we can bring joy to all these kids – with our performances at our home World Cup in 2018 as well.”
A number of other Russian and international football stars are also taking part in the charity project. Neymar, Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez, Fabio Cannavaro, Diego Forlan, Nadine Kessler, Roman Shirokov, Artem Dzyuba, and Denis Glushakov will all lend a hand to make the children's dreams come true and make their New Year's celebrations even more magical.