Laureus Host: Can you talk about your own World Cup experiences?
Marcel Desailly: My experience of the World Cup started from a very good experience with the French in ’98. There was a big disillusion in ’94 when France did not qualify, but because of ’98 this has been something really special for France and for myself. But then we had a bad experience for the World Cup 2002, where France did not succeed. We still had great players, but the pressure of the competition was too high for us. We did not deliver. We did not go to the second round and it was a big disappointment.
Question: How did 1998 compare to other football experiences in your life?
Marcel Desailly: You cannot compare. World Cup is World Cup. I have the image of Diego Maradona in ’86, you know, lifting the World Cup. It’s something amazing, it’s a special moment. As a footballer, you want to lift that trophy. It’s something so special. It’s one month’s work, teamwork, it’s the national team also. You cannot compare to club implication. The World Cup, it’s nation, faith, dedication.
Question: You put that higher than ’93, ’94 when you won two Champions Leagues with two teams?
Marcel Desailly: At the end of the day, trophies are like kids. Don’t ask me to choose between one of my kids. But I will say that my elder, it’s the World Cup. The World Cup is the greatest emotion.
Question: What made that French team so good?
Marcel Desailly: We all came together at the same moment. We managed to perform individually, collectively. We had a great coach who had a vision. I remember the first day of the competition, he said: “We are going to win the World Cup.” Now we all look at him, we were experienced players, I mean, Zidane was in Juventus, Lizaruzu in Bayern Munich, I was AC Milan, already a bit established. And we said: “But what is he telling us?” And he worked on us, you know, psychologically and, and it does work, it does work. It was a great experience in France in our nation.
Question: What about the France team in the 2014 World Cup?
Marcel Desailly: I grew up with [the manager] Didier Deschamps in Nantes, long time ago in ’86. He was my friend and my captain also. He goes into small details and knows exactly where he’s going. He is covering everything on his tactical aspect and his physical preparation. I’m sure talent is there in the team when you take the players individually. The only problem is collectively. France does not perform unless they are scared of getting eliminated. Against Ukraine [in the qualifying play-off], you could see that France have finally performed. But we are not expecting to win the World Cup. We are just there, hanging, hoping that game after game we can build up a collective motivation.
Question: If they build up this collective motivation, could they win the World Cup? Is it possible?
Marcel Desailly: It is about confidence. You build up the confidence game after game, and from there, you never know, because we have the talent and the group is not a difficult group [Ecuador, Honduras, Switzerland]. We have South American teams and we do not specially know what is their level. First game every time is very important, to build up that confidence and to allow the coach to have his first choice 11. This is important for Didier.
Question: Franck Ribéry came third in the Ballon d’Or vote, how do you rate him?
Marcel Desailly: He is a great player, one of the top three players that we have today in Europe. But we are a bit disappointed. He has not positioned himself as a leader of the French National Team. He is just one of the players, while we are expecting him to be the real leader, like Zidane was. He has not delivered our expectation. The fact that he did not win the Ballon d’Or may make him understand that you need to have something extra. Then maybe the performance that he will deliver during the World Cup will allow him to go to a different level again.
He needs to be more consistent in the performance. He needs to score more goals. He has scored only ten goals this year while the records of Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Suarez, Cavani or Ibrahimovic are huge. Even if he’s a winger, we are really expecting him to score and to be a really important player for the team, who makes the difference.
Question: Can Didier Deschamps get the best out of him?
Marcel Desailly: It depends. If Deschamps decides to surround him with players that will be dedicated to him, probably he can deliver a different level to what we have seen from Ribéry. But if he is one of the players in the tactical set-up from Deschamps, it will be the normal Ribéry that we are used to. Capable to dribble to open ends at any time, but is he capable to make the difference, that makes a player very special? Cristiano Ronaldo has it. He is also on the wing.
Question: If you were manager of France, would you build the team around Ribéry, or would you just have him as one of your players?
Marcel Desailly: The problem is that he is a winger. He is playing on the side. We have tried to put him behind a striker, but it does not work. He can play very well in counter attack, because he’s very fast on the transition from defence to attack, but, honestly, the answer will be ‘no’, we cannot build up the team [around Ribéry]. He has to be connected to the tactical set-up according to the players that Deschamps has. And we can hope that he will be the extra special player on his performance.
Question: Spain are defending champions. Can they win again?
Marcel Desailly: If Spain win the World Cup, it will be an amazing moment. They will be for sure the best national team of history. We had the opportunity to go for the second one with France and we know how difficult it is to handle the pressure. But Spain collectively, tactically, they have the players. Even if you have some players whose performance goes down, they have so many young players coming up – Negredo and Cazorla for example – who can fit into the system. I will be very interested to see how Spain handle this, because we know everything about them, but still they surprise us and they are able to deliver every time very good games and performance.
Question: Players like Xavi, Alonso and Iniesta seem to have been there forever. Do you expect to see younger players start to push them out?
Marcel Desailly: Every time you talk about Spain, you talk obviously about Iniesta, Xavi, but you have other players also who are hoping they can have their chance like Mata, Cazorla or many others. They have so many players who fit every time to the tactical set-up that the coach is trying.
Question: Can Spain win?
Marcel Desailly: Yes, probably, because they have many players coming in to boost the established players. With France we were all established players in 2002, after winning the World Cup in ’98, but we had no new players behind us to push us. That is not the case with Spain. They have that pressure, they have huge teams in Real Madrid and Barcelona that provide players and they really are in the rhythm of the game.
Question: What about the Host Nation Brazil? They beat Spain in the final of the Confederations Cup.
Marcel Desailly: I was very pleased about Brazil in the Confederations Cup, on their capacity to handle the pressure. The enthusiasm was amazing. But for the World Cup in Brazil, I think that they will struggle a little bit to handle that pressure, to deliver. The first game will be very important, but I’m sure confusion will be in the team. I’m sure it will be difficult for them to join altogether. They will face a lot of challenges. It will not come easy like everybody is thinking. Brazil will face a lot of problems for this World Cup. They have young players who have a bit of experience of the high level game in Europe, obviously, but I think it is not enough. Playing at home is an advantage, but at the same time it can be other way round where they do not have the experience to handle that.
Question: Are people putting too much pressure on Neymar?
Marcel Desailly: When you talk about Neymar, you all the time have a smile on the face, especially when he was in Brazil in his league where he was showing amazing skill. But you realise that now that he is in European football, he’s not any more the famous Neymar and the skilful Neymar that we could see at his club previously. Coming to the World Cup, I am not sure he will be fit psychologically to deliver. Either he will be too motivated and he will overplay, or maybe he will not be ready because he has not built enough confidence through his club Barcelona throughout the year.
I do not specially see Neymar being one of the best player of the World Cup. I am not sure that he will be able to deliver. They have other players, obviously. Hulk is one of them, Fred, Willian, obviously, is there. Already from Chelsea they have four – Oscar, Ramires, David Luiz, as well as Willian. Let’s see if the rest of the team is capable of handling the fact of the expectation of Neymar’s performance.
Question: Germany always seem to do well in big competitions?
Marcel Desailly: Since 2006 we have been expecting the new generation of players to show us they are the team of the future. But it is like something is missing. You need to be a bit more sparkling. It is like they all stay in the same position, collectively good, but not any individual player who is there to make the difference. When you look at Ozil, you understand what I’m talking about. They are capable of making a difference, they are capable of performing, but something is missing to go to the final stage really.
During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Germany showed us great skill, great capacity, great future, but it looks like they have not progressed at all. I do believe that most of the players also have gone to different countries. Normally, German players play in their country, but you can see that most of them are outside, even if Bayern have some of them. It has diluted their concentration on the national team. Their coach Joachim Löw did not have the possibility to work very hard on them. They qualified quite easily, but I don’t count really on Germany this year. They can be the surprise, but I don’t really count on them because the offensive animation does not look good enough to win a World Cup.
Question: So who do you think will win?
Marcel Desailly: For this World Cup in Brazil, I do believe that Argentina will win the World Cup, when you look at their individual players and how collectively also they are capable of playing. In South Africa, I think they lost the possibility to go on to the final stages because their coach did not put the players correctly on the pitch, on the tactical aspect. He went too offensive and did not protect his back four. Because the weakness of Argentina is the back four. I believe if Argentina protect the defence, they will succeed.
Question: It is said Lionel Messi never plays as well for Argentina as he does for Barcelona. Do you agree with that?
Marcel Desailly: When you talk about Argentina, obviously you talk about Messi, where we have been a bit disappointed about his performance in the past World Cup. I am sure Messi has a problem because the tactical set-up is not made for him. He all the time has a striker in front of him, where the movement is not the same and he has to go to the left side or right side, so he is not really allowed to be the man of the situation. We hope this World Cup, where we are not expecting Messi to be the player of the tournament, he’s going to surprise us through the collective performance of Argentina.
They are an amazing team with all the players that they have – Aguero, Higuaín, di María, Zabaleta, Demichelis, as well as Messi. I am sure collectively Argentina will be able, with Messi at top or without Messi at his best, to win the World Cup.
Question: Could you see an Argentina team without Messi in it?
Marcel Desailly: Honestly I see Argentina playing without Messi. Yes, when you look at their attacking potential. You can say that Messi can have a problem for two, three, four games during the World Cup. But they can handle it because Aguero, when he is at his best, can perform and Higuaín has skill and great ability. Honestly, Messi is not specially the key player of Argentina, you will see.
You need to protect Messi. You need to protect him a little bit and if he’s not at his best, you have to change your tactical aspect. You know when you put an important player like Messi on the bench to rest, he will look at his team and feel that he needs to perform, and when you put him in [the team] for the next game, then you see a different player. Also for the other players, when you show them that the team is not only about Messi, then there is a collective boost for the team.
Question: England have not made an impact for some years. Will this year be different?
Marcel Desailly: They have a good potential and they have some good, young, talented players, but I do not think anyone is expecting them to win the World Cup. We are always expecting them to build up that confidence to potentially do something, but we have been disappointed in past World Cups in Germany and South Africa, where you have a good group of players that was having the experience of the top class Premier League, but nothing came out. I am sure this time, England do not have individual players who can make the difference.
It does not seem that there are any extra top class players. Obviously people will talk about Rooney, but in the previous World Cup, he did not perform. This year, he is not really in a good shape. It will depend on the collective play of the team, good young players who fit in and the cleverness of your coaches. Otherwise, England will not go to the final stages. I think even Belgium have a better potential to go to the final stage than England, on their individual capacity. Yes, there is Gerrard, yes, there is Lampard, the old guys are there strong on their feet. We love them, but is it going to be enough? I’m not sure. Welbeck, does he have enough experience? Is he that striker that can score and make the difference for his national team? I’m not sure, honestly, I’m not sure. That’s why there is no expectation.
Question: Can new, young players like Sterling of Liverpool, Lallana of Southampton and Barkley of Everton come in and perform on the World Cup stage?
Marcel Desailly: They do not have that experience to handle a game in the group stage or in the final stages of the World Cup. It looks like, for the World Cup, it will not be in Brazil, it will be the next one, in Russia, for England. Honestly, they are now building up their players and their team to win the World Cup in the future. England are in a very difficult group [Costa Rica, Italy and Uruguay]. Italy and Uruguay are very experienced teams. Final stage for England? I am not really sure about it.
Question: Everyone is tipping Belgium to have a good World Cup?
Marcel Desailly: When you talk about Belgium, there is a smile on the face. For this World Cup, I am sure Belgium will perform and will be the surprise of the World Cup. They have players like Kompany, Hazard, Lukaku. They are very good and experienced. They have a nice attitude that will push the pressure out and leave these players able to perform and deliver something special for us. It is fresh to see this team. They are well-prepared and collectively can really surprise everyone.
Question: Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo, are No 3 in the world rankings. Can they m ake a breakthrough and win?
Marcel Desailly: When you talk about Portugal for this World Cup in Brazil, you think about Cristiano Ronaldo straight away. But you’re not capable really to bring out other names. Yes, Pepe, but he’s a defender, so all the potential is about how Ronaldo is going to perform. Yes, he is top Player of the Year, Ballon d’Or, but is it enough for the World Cup? I’m not sure. They did not qualify straight away. They had to beat Sweden in a qualifying play-off – last minute Ronaldo again made the difference. But I’m not sure you can count on only one man. It looks like the experience of the other players is not yet at the level of winning a World Cup. It is not yet the time for Portugal. We are pleased to see them playing because of the way they play, it’s quite fluent and easy, but I think they will have to wait.
Question: What about Ghana, the country you were born. Can they be a surprise team?
Marcel Desailly: For sure, my country of origin. It is disappointing that after 84 years of World Cup now, none of the African team have managed to reach the semi-final yet. I hope this will be the time. Obviously Ghana is one of them, even if I think that Ivory Coast have better potential than Ghana on performing for the World Cup. We are not talking about winning the World Cup. We are talking about performing and going to the final stage where everything can happen. Ivory Coast have really experienced players, when you look at Yaya Touré, Drogba, Zokora. You have that collective experience where they have been able to build up a team and spirit through the African Cup of Nations and I just hope that Ivory Coast will be the team that will surprise everyone.
As for Ghana, they will not surprise us because they have proved that they are used to the final stage of competition. They are just missing something. Luckily, our President, John Mahama, talked with some of the older players and asked them to come back. Essien potentially is there, Kevin-Prince Boateng will be there. I will not be surprised if Ghana perform well. It’s just that they are in a very, very difficult group. Germany is there, Portugal is there, USA is there. If they go through, it will be no surprise as they have proved to us that they know how to prepare.
Question: Can you make some predictions for the followers of Laureus.com?
Marcel Desailly: Winners – Argentina ; Other Finalist – Belgium ; Best Player – Ronaldo ; Top Scorer – Aguero ; Surprise Team – Ivory Coast
Question: What does being a Laureus World Sports Academy Member mean to you?
Marcel Desailly: I am very pleased to be a Laureus Academy Member, using sport to help children and even adults to integrate society or to develop their skills in their life and in sport. It’s something very special for me, particularly when I visit a project that Laureus supports.
I have been lucky to go to Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and even in London or in France, and it gives me motivation to continue to help kids in special or difficult environments. Sport allows kids to be better human beings and to be better friends.
And to be a bit egoist, I dedicate my time and myself to projects and to the organisation which uses sport to help others, but when I go to those projects, I also benefit myself in a special way. It is a great feeling to say I have been able to give 30 or 40% of my time throughout the year to help others.
Question: Can you tell us about some of the visits you have made.
Marcel Desailly: It’s every time a shock and at the same time a pleasure, it’s a mix of two feelings. Shock because when you go to somewhere like South Africa, there is no infrastructure, nothing is there. Crime is there every time and through Laureus grass root programmes that we have set up, we suddenly give hope to those kids. Hope to develop their skills and have access to sport.
You have some young kids who are almost gangsters in a group and you enter in contact with them. They have had a difficult life. Maybe a kid doesn’t listen, he doesn’t want to do anything, then you allow him to play basketball, for example, and suddenly he becomes a different child. You give him responsibility as a captain in his team, while in his life he’s not disciplined, he doesn’t want to do anything, he’s fighting with everyone and suddenly being a captain on the basketball court brings him responsibility. And he changes his life because suddenly he is well-structured, he’s disciplined, he helps his teammates on the field. I am so pleased to see that.
Same thing for Ghana, for example. We are helping an orphanage where we built some sport infrastructure and you can see that this opened up the mind of the kids. Most of the kids have been under shock because of prostitution, violence and problems they have and suddenly sports allow them to be more open and we can understand their need.
What is great about Laureus is that it’s all over the world. You can be in Asia, you can be in South Africa, you can be in Europe. The last opportunity I had was to be in Kuala Lumpur to be part of a football tournament project that we supported there where we brought kids who are having problem in the city. We created an amazing tournament and we had the chance to interact with them and make them understand that professional football is not easy. You have to work very hard and they are not used to working hard, to be concentrate on one thing. For them everything is easy, or nothing is important. In sport, everything is important. Small details and your commitment for the game. And we are trying to explain to them how it is in reality. So it was great in Kuala Lumpur to share that moment with those kids.
Marcel is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy. He played in the French 1998 World Cup winning team.