Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Laureus Academy Member Sir Bobby Charlton sat down with Laureus to reflect on his career, look ahead to the tournament and to share his thoughts on supporting Sport for Good.
Can you tell us about your best World Cup memory?
I don’t think we ever dreamed of winning the World Cup, but it was in 1962 when the seeds for 1966 were there? I remember young players like Bobby Moore were coming into the action and there was a lot of real interest in the football that England were producing. We played quite a lot and we won quite a lot leading up to ’66. I remember thinking, when I was looking at the team that had been selected, this is as good as anybody.
Did you believe before the first ball was kicked that you could win?
We did not talk a lot, we usually left that on the training ground. It was a tough World Cup, there were some really great teams playing, but we had been on tour and had beaten everyone. In 1963, I would say, England were very well positioned to do well in the World Cup.
The system was 4-3-3 and Alf Ramsay, who was the manager at the time, was convinced that was what we were best suited to, so that took a lot off your mind. Players were picked to play [in that system] and a lot of managers would not have picked them: players like Nobby Stiles, who was not an attractive footballer but he was a hard nut and we needed somebody like him; my brother, Jack, big centre-half, who could head everything all day; George Cohen, not a classical footballer, but he never was defeated by any of the wingers that used to come up against him; Bobby Moore, it was quite early for him to be a World Cup captain, but he was perfectly suited to it.
If you were going to win the World Cup, you had to get players that had character. Every time that 11 English players went onto the field, you could think ‘it’s going to take a good team that’s going to beat us’, and that turned out to be the case.
I felt from the first that we were going to win the World Cup. Alf Ramsay had said yes, we will win the World Cup and everybody went ha-ha, you know, a few guffaws in the media, but nevertheless, after the first match, which was a 0-0 draw with Uruguay, I remember thinking, well, a draw, that’s going to be the most that we are ever going to concede.
You won the World Cup playing at home. Is that good or does it add extra pressure?
The pressure of expectation was there, but it was something that we could handle.
What do you think it is going to be like for Brazil playing at home?
When the World Cup starts in Brazil you will find out that the public will be absolutely demanding that Brazil wins the World Cup. They have always done that, but they have always had maybe more great players than they have at the present time. But they will be hard and they will be difficult. But I would have to say playing in South America - Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, there’s some really, really great players and great teams there.
What about the England squad of today with so many young players. Is the World Cup too big a stage to throw in too many young players?
I don’t think so, I don’t think it’s difficult at all. If you ask any young player, they would jump at the opportunity of playing because it might never happen again. The only thing that worries me is the shortage of actually world class players. I remember Fabio Capello [former England manager] said that he did not have enough players. It’s unbelievable to think that the great England, with all the history that has gone on over the years cannot get enough players together for specific tournaments. It is something that bothers me a lot. We have the same problem as Mr Capello. I’m really quite pleased with a few of the players, but to think of us winning, I think probably no. I cannot in all honesty say that England will win. I am not against foreign players, but it means that if they are playing, we don’t have enough young players. We should play young players. You have to give them a chance, but it’s unbelievably difficult.
For England to have a good World Cup, which players will have to play well?
Wayne Rooney is the only one that comes to mind when you think of where are our class players coming from? Wayne Rooney will have to play. He’s just got that something extra. He will thrive, I think, on a successful performance in the World Cup. I think that a lot of the others are young, and they have an opportunity and they have something to prove, but it’s going to be difficult. In every position there seems to be a little bit of doubt in my mind, apart from Wayne Rooney and even Wayne would want to play in certain positions, but it’s up to the manager. I think the manager [Roy Hodgson] is very intelligent and I think that he will know exactly what he has got to do and, although I don’t think England can win the World Cup, I don’t think England will be ashamed either.
Do you talk to Wayne about the World Cup?
I tell him that if anybody is going to beat my record for the number of goals scored [49 goals for England] it better be you, and I said so don’t let me down, and he says OK. He’s young enough and he has the ability. When he scores he likes the thought of it and he has a great attitude. I think that if everything goes well and he is not injured he will certainly be England’s great football player. He has a quality that is made for a World Cup.
What is it like to play in Brazil?
It’s loud. I always remember thinking this is loud. I think we played in front of 150,000 people and it was something to behold, really. But you don’t worry about the crowds. There’s none of the crowd will ever score a goal, that’s what I was always told. But the World Cup [in Brazil] is something really, really special.
Do you think the crowds will lift Brazil or do you think the pressure might get to them?
No, the crowd will do their best to lift them. I don’t doubt for a moment that Brazil will want to win as much as they ever did. Lots of great teams are going to be there as well and great players. I always like to think and hope that [England] can get something out of it, but it does not seem possible: it’s in Brazil; tough opposition; our own shortage of players. There’s a lot of problems there.
It is a tough group for England as well - Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica. Suarez for Uruguay has a habit of making headlines.
Suarez is a great player, a marvellous finisher and he likes scoring goals, he enjoys the accolade and all the compliments that come with it. But he plays also in a very strong team. I’ve watched Uruguay over the years and they are desperately proud of what they do and what they have achieved. They were the very first World Cup winners. I don’t want to dismiss the Europeans completely – Spain are strong, Germany are strong, France are strong, Italy are strong. England, I’m hoping, can prove they are strong enough as well. It is going to be one of those fantastic whodunits.
It sounds as if you think it is unlikely a European team is going to win in Brazil?
I think that South Americans are very proud and when the World Cup comes to Brazil then they’re going to make sure they do their very best. They will be tough as boots. There is Brazil, the Argentines. Chile are very strong and capable.
Who do you think will be the great players of the World Cup?
Ronaldo is a sensational player and I’m really, really envious when I see his talent that [England] don’t seem to ever match that sort of quality. He is just the most enjoyable player to watch. He tries all sorts of things. When he was with us [Manchester United] it was just magic. You know, he loves scoring goals. He’ll continue to do that. He’s a great, great player and Portugal are going to be a very strong outlet for the really great talent that Ronaldo has. He is just sensational and the most enjoyable player to watch that I’ve ever seen. He is so fast, so inventive, just magic. I wonder if ever the day would come when maybe he would come and play for us [Manchester United] again. I don’t think it will happen, but you never know. Messi is a little bit different. He plays with his team. He scores fantastic goals and he will be there in the World Cup, I have no doubt about that. He brings players into it, whereas Ronaldo will do things only as an individual.
If Spain win the World Cup again, as well as the last two European Championships, will that make them the greatest national team we have ever seen?
Yes. I would say. But they have a lot of work to do in South America. If I was choosing from all the ones that I’ve mentioned, I think Uruguay and Argentina and maybe Brazil. Maybe Brazil don’t have the players and I think the fact that they are going to have to be performing at the top level may be a little bit beyond some people. They all come and play in Europe so they have lots of experience. But I somehow don’t think that Brazil can win the World Cup.
One of Spain’s players is Juan Mata, who plays for Manchester United. Do you think he has a great future for Spain?
Juan Mata is a very, very intelligent player. He has a tremendous quality and that is that he never wastes a ball. I’ve not seen him give the ball away unnecessarily; he’s really top quality with regard to that. So Mata is a first class player, first class athlete and he will be thereabouts, I’m sure.
Are you confident next season will be better for Manchester United?
I don’t think it would be possible to do anything other than that. We’ve had a really, really tricky year and I’m quite hopeful that it won’t be long in the future before we actually really line up to perform against the best and I think that we’ve got a new manager, new outlook, a new style. It’ll be very interesting to see how he comes along and how he works. He’s obviously a, very important person with regard to the Dutch. I think that he will certainly be a very, very good performer for us.
Do you think it was inevitable there would be some reaction after Sir Alex went?
It was the most obvious thing that everybody had to think about, but it was possible that it would take a while before it actually settled, and the performance of the team was not as it should have been. But we have a good history of playing international football at club level and I’m quite satisfied that we will be back, we will be better.
How pleased were you when you won the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012?
It was marvellous. I never expected it. It’s a great organisation and I am so proud to be a part of it and when they asked me to take the accolade I was really very proud and I still am.
You are very passionate about your work with Laureus?
Hopefully when we, as members of the Laureus World Sports Academy, get together we come up with some of the best projects in the world which we can support. Mine in particular is landmines clearance. If we can clear mines away without them actually blowing people up - young people in particular seem to suffer most - it’s something that I’m very happy with. And if one day we can eliminate mines that would be just fantastic – even if we can just help in doing this.
But at Laureus we support lots of different projects. I was in Hong Kong recently, at a rugby project run to help young people keep out of trouble, and when you speak to the young people you get a fantastic response. There are lots and lots of really difficult subjects that need our attention.