Becky Lucas catches up with the footballing godfather to talk World Cup predictions, Soccer Circus and that fall-out with Sir Alex Ferguson
How does it feel to have Dubai’s Soccer Circus finally up and running? Fantastic. We have one in Glasgow and a smaller one in Centre Parcs in the UK, but the Dubai venue [at Mirdif City Centre] is the flagship in terms of design and space.
Will you be spending a lot of time in Dubai now? Yes. I’m here for a week this time, but as part of the deal I said I’d come over for a week every year. It’s up to them what we do with that time. This is my third time here – my first trip here was 30 years ago, so you can imagine the difference I notice now!
On to the World Cup – apart from England, who do you think could win it? The obvious two in most people’s minds are Spain and Brazil, because they’re the top-ranked teams. Obviously I want England to do well and think they will. Argentina would be my idea of a dark horse. I think they’ve underperformed in the past six months to a year, but if you look at the players they’re very strong, so it’ll be great to see if they can get their act together and make it to the final or semi-finals.
And the England squad? They need to get their strongest team out and get everybody fit: Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Gareth Barry. They’re the eighth-ranked team in the world so they should get to the quarter finals; after that it depends how they play on the day. I think Wayne Rooney is very important – if he has a good tournament, England will do well.
Which up-and-coming players should we be watching? One that might get into the team if he makes the squad is Adam Johnson from Manchester City. Look out for him – he’s very quick and unknown. I’d like to see Theo Walcott have a great World Cup; he’s still young, but he’s got a lot going for him and he’s a really nice guy. As a role model for the future, he’s the one I hope has a fantastic tournament.
What has been the best moment in your football career so far? Two or three spring to mind as far as playing goes: captaining England and walking out. You look down at the Three Lions on your shirt and think: Wow, I’m captain of my country – I never thought this would happen! That was one major thing. Winning European Footballer of the Year a couple of times was also great because at that time there were a lot of great players around.
Do you regret your famous outburst against Manchester United when you were Newcastle manager the first time around? No, not at all. At the time Sir Alex Ferguson said something that was wrong and too many people let it go. I said what I thought. It didn’t cost us the championship; our performances did. It was very sad that Newcastle United did not win the championship that year, but Manchester United only lost one game between Christmas and the end of the season which is very, very unusual. We may have lost it, but I think they more or less won it. Despite all that, Sir Alex and I are still good friends, so we haven’t let it affect us in our lives. See www.soccercircus.com for more. Check out this interview and our penalty shoot-out on video at www.timeoutdubai.com.