From being a prodigious talent, learning his trade on the streets of the Croxteth area of ​​Liverpool, Wayne Rooney has run the full spectrum of the game with emotion and effervescence. His frantic pace and flair for show are part of Old Trafford folklore. Long gone are those gaudy days but Rooney he’s still part of the game, having chosen to coach after hanging up his boots.
Ready for his first trip to India, Rooney speaks at length exclusively with TOI about the World Cup which kicks off on Sunday.
It’s a mid-season World Cup. Please share your thoughts on this.
Yes, I think it’s strange to have the World Cup in the winter. And probably all executives would like time to prepare with the players. It seems strange to me to play the Premier League match a week ago and then the World Cup starts on Sunday. I don’t think the players will be fit, but they need to be ready for the World Cup. It’s just something different than what we’re used to.
You said the players will be ready. As for the weather, how will it affect a player?
Maybe up to a point. But I think gamers are now used to playing in all different types of climates. See teams travel to Champions League matches where they go from one extreme to the other. It will have an effect, but maybe not as much as everyone thinks. I don’t think it will be a big deal to be honest.
Can you share your thoughts on England? After reaching the semi-finals in Russia and the finals of Euros, now is the best time, place and opportunity to England take the cup home?
I think it’s a good opportunity. In any tournament England plays, hopefully we can win it. Obviously it will be a difficult tournament to win in Qatar for anyone. I think we have a supportive group. We should go through the group stage and then of course you need a bit of luck in the knockout stages. With a bit of luck, of course, I’m able to win the World Cup. It’s a pretty good team led by a good manager. Brazil looks like a very good team. Argentina has also been successful. Obviously, France and Belgium or Germany are right there. The team that finds that consistency throughout the tournament will win.
What is the most important aspect that struck you about England?
We have a lot of young players in the squad who are exciting. I think with the experience of the last two tournaments it will help England. The players get that experience of going to the semis and the finals will really help them. The important thing is to get into a good moment and then the trust will flow.
Who would be England’s biggest challenge in the group stage?
I think all three matches will be challenging in their own way. Iran is coached by Carlos Queiroz. They will be very difficult on the ball. I think Wales will bother us on the counterattack. And the United States, led by Gregg Berhalter, will take the game to England. Our kids should maintain attention and concentration. I’m confident they should win all three games.
Will the South Americans be able to break the European monopoly this time?
I think they can. The two obvious ones are Brazil and Argentina. One of these two teams can definitely win the Cup. I think Brazil probably have the better team, but consistency will be key. The South Americans bring that talent to the tournament which is a little bit different from what we get from the European teams. It would be interesting to see how that turns out.


WAZZA AT THE BEST: Wayne Rooney played in three World Cups and four Europeans. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
As a coach, can you highlight the strengths of the South Americans?
They know all the tricks, the little things, that go into the field, and then they execute them really well. As for England, I said about 10 years ago, this is what England was missing. Those little tricks that really distort the opposition. The European teams are probably a bit more disciplined than the South American ones in terms of team form. We tend to do what the coach wants us to do. We have seen in the past that the South Americans add more numbers up front to show off their talent and not maintain form.
Flair brings spectators to the ground, but that doesn’t win any trophies, right?
Yes. It’s been true for a few years now. But first we saw Brazil and Argentina win the Cup. With Pele And Maradona. Players with magic and that’s what fans want to see. They want to see the most skilled players receive the ball and allow them to express themselves. But as a coach, sometimes you want discipline. It depends on the balance of your team and your team and how you allow the best players to express themselves.
As a manager now, would you allow talented players the freedom to express themselves?
Of course I would. This would create those moments in football that people don’t forget. For some forwards, you want them to play with an expression and freedom that allows them to go and experience these magical moments. And tell him not to be afraid to make mistakes.
Given the aging defence, do you still consider Brazil the favourites?
I think Tite has a lot of quality players. It’s about finding the right balance, chemistry and team spirit, and not just on match days. Obviously Tite will not start with nine forwards even if he has chosen them. They’re a great team, but you’ve seen in the past that sometimes the favorites don’t always win. I remember that during 2004 when Greece won the European Championships, Mourinho’s Porto won the Champions League. They won through hard work and togetherness. I’m sure there will be one or two teams making surprises.
It’s Neymar’s third World Cup. Is Neymar causing an imbalance in Brazil’s set-up?
It depends on the system and how the coach positions it. He is a fantastic player and has scored a lot of goals. As a coach, I’d rather have him in my team than in opposition. I’m sure the coach of Brazil will have set it right and will help Brazil win the sixth place.
Where would you like Neymar to play?
He can play in the front third. To be honest, I would probably ask him to start on the left because it would allow him to pick up the ball and run, rather than playing with his back to goal. He can create great opportunities for others and for himself. For me the left wing is the best position for him.


Lionel Messi he is perhaps playing his last World Cup. Will the pressure on him and his Argentine team increase?
I’m sure he’s used to managing expectations. The idea of ​​leaving a legacy is definitely going through his head. I would like to see Messi or (Cristiano) Ronaldo win the World Cup. It would be a fitting conclusion to their incredible careers. I’m sure Messi will do everything he can to try and help Argentina win.
Who are your four semifinalists?
I will go with Belgium. Germany. Argentina and England.
Defending champions France not on your mind?
They have some players who recently won the World Cup. But N’Golo Kante and will be missing Paul Pogba. However, I am a menace with (Kylian) Mbappe, Karim (Benzema) and (Raphael) Varane.
Players you’ll be following closely at the World Cup?
There are some English players like Harry Kane and Phil Foden. And I’m interested in watching Wales’ Brennan Johnson. Gabriel Jesus is another. It would be interesting to see if Jesus can replicate his Arsenal form.
So, Wayne wants Messi or Ronaldo to win the World Cup…
If it’s not England, then I’d like one of them to win the Cup. It would be nice to see a fantastic conclusion to their amazing careers.
How excited are you to address an Indian audience during a World Cup?
I am extremely excited. It will be my first time in India. Looking forward to reaching Mumbai on Saturday.
(Wayne Rooney will serve on the Viacom18 Sports think tank for fifa world cup in Qatar. The matches will be broadcast live on Sports18 and JioCinema)

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