Ready for his first trip to India, Rooney speaks privately with TOI about the World Cup kicking off on Sunday.
This is a mid-season World Cup. Please share your thoughts on this.
Yes, I think it’s weird that the World Cup is held in winter. And all managers would probably want time to prepare with the players. It feels weird playing the Premier League game a week ago and the World Cup kicking off on Sunday. I don’t think the players will be in shape but they need to be ready for the World Cup. It’s just something different from what we’re used to.
You said the players would be ready. In terms of weather, how does it affect a player?
Maybe to some extent. But I think players are used to playing in all kinds of climates now. You see teams going from one extreme to the other to Champions League games. It will have an effect, but maybe not as much as everyone thinks. To be honest, I don’t think it will be a major problem.
Can you share your thoughts on England? After reaching the semi-finals in Russia and the finals in the Euro, is this the best time, place and opportunity for us? England to bring the glass home?
I think this is a good opportunity. We hope we can win any tournament England plays. Obviously, it will be a tough tournament for everyone to win in Qatar. I think we have a suitable group. We have to go through the group stages and then you need some luck in the qualifying stages. With a little luck, of course, they can win the World Cup. A good enough team managed by a good manager. Brazil looks like a very good team. Argentina also had a successful period. Frankly, France and Belgium or Germany are right there. The team that finds consistency throughout the tournament will win.
What is the most important thing about England that impresses you?
We have many exciting young players in our squad. I think the experience of the last two tournaments will help England. Players know that the experience of reaching the semi-finals and finals will really help them. The key is to have good momentum and then confidence will flow.
Who will challenge England the most in the group stage?
I think all three matches will be tough in their own way. Iran is ruled by Carlos Queiroz. They will have a hard time with the ball. I think Wales will disturb us in the counter attack. And the USA under Gregg Berhalter will bring the game to the UK. Our children must maintain focus and concentration. I believe they should win all three games.
Will the South Americans be able to break the monopoly of Europe this time?
I think they can. The two obvious ones are Brazil and Argentina. Either of these two teams can definitely take the trophy. I think Brazil probably has the best squad, but consistency will be key. The South Americans bring this talent to the tournament, which is slightly different from what we get from European teams. It would be interesting to see how this turns out.
WAZZA AT THE BEST: Wayne Rooney played three World Cups and four Euros. (Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
As a coach, can you highlight the strengths of South Americans?
They know all the tricks and little things on the field and then they apply them very well. As for the UK, I said this about 10 years ago, that’s what the UK lacked. Those little tricks that really break the opposition. European teams are probably a little more disciplined than South American teams in terms of team shape. We tend to do what the coach asks us to do. In the past, we’ve seen South Americans add more points on offense and keep their shape to show off their skills.
Flair knocks the audience down, but that doesn’t win trophies, does it?
Yes. This has been true for several years. But we’ve seen Brazil and Argentina win the Cup before. With Pele and maradona. That’s what magic players and fans want to see. They want to see the ball given to more skilled players and allowed to express themselves. But as a coach, sometimes you want discipline. It depends on the balance of your squad and team and how you allow the better players to express themselves.
Now, as a coach, would you give talented players the freedom to express themselves?
Of course I would like. This would create moments in football that people don’t forget. For a few offensive players, you want them to go and play with an expression and freedom that allows them to experience these magical moments. And tell them not to be afraid to make mistakes.
Do you still consider Brazil to be the favourites, given their aging defenses?
I think Tite has a lot of quality players. It’s about getting the balance, chemistry and team spirit right, not just on match days. Obviously, Tite would not start with nine offensive players even if he had picked them. They’re a great team, but you’ve seen in the past that sometimes the favorites don’t always win. I remember in 2004 Greece won the Euro and Mourinho’s Porto won the Champions League. With hard work and draw, they won. I’m sure there will be one or two teams that will surprise you.
Neymar’s third World Cup. Is Neymar causing an imbalance in the Brazilian order?
It depends on the system and how the coach positions it. He’s a great player and has scored a lot of goals. As a coach, I would rather have him on my team than my opponent. I’m sure the Brazilian coach set him up correctly and helped Brazil get their sixth win.
Where would you like Neymar to play?
He can play front trio. To be honest, I’d probably like him to start from the left because that would let him pick up the ball and run instead of playing with his back to the goal. It can create great opportunities for others and for oneself. For me the left wing is his best position.
Lion Messi maybe he’s playing his last World Cup. Will this increase the pressure on him and his team Argentina?
I’m sure he’s used to dealing with expectations. The idea of leaving a legacy always crosses his mind. I would love to see Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo win the World Cup. It would be a fitting end to their incredible career. I’m sure Messi will do everything in his power to help Argentina win.
Who are your four semi-finalists?
I will go with Belgium. Germany. Argentina and England.
Defending champions France not on your mind?
They have several players who have recently won the World Cup. But they will miss N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba. Yet they pose a threat to (Kylian) Mbappe, Karim (Benzema) and (Raphael) Varane.
Players you will follow with interest in the World Cup?
There are a few British players like Harry Kane and Phil Foden. And I’m interested in watching Brennan Johnson from Wales. Gabriel Jesus is another. It would be interesting to see if Jesus could replicate his Arsenal form.
Wayne wants either Messi or Ronaldo to win the World Cup.
If not England then I would like either of them to win the Cup. It would be nice to see a great end to their incredible career.
How excited are you to be addressing an Indian audience during a World Cup?
I’m so excited. It will be my first time going to India. I look forward to arriving in Mumbai on Saturday.
(Wayne Rooney will be part of Viacom18 Sports’ expert panel. FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Matches will be shown live on Sports18 and JioCinema)