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The Rediff Interview/Sir Bobby Charlton

'If Rooney uses his brains, his future is secure'

October 25, 2004

England football legend Sir Bobby Charlton visited India for the first time earlier this week as a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

Spectacles and a bald pate have replaced the famous comb-over style of England's 1966 World Cup-winning hero.

Bobby CharltonEngland's record holder for most number of goals (49) and star of the famous 'Busby Babes' Manchester United team, Sir Bobby appeared puzzled when asked about the dipping fortunes of his beloved teams.

"I don't know. You tell me why England hasn't won a World Cup after 1966," he said. But he refused to comment on Real Madrid players David Beckham and Michael Owen.

Sir Bobby also told Sports Correspondent Deepti Patwardhan that he follows cricket regularly, that Bradman is his all-time favourite and the first time he held a bat he was bowled.

How has the experience of working with the Laureus World Sports Academy and its Sport for Good Foundation been?

It is the most important thing I've ever done. We basically try to solve the social problems that come to us. We try to help solve problems. We then expect the national foundations to fund themselves; faster the better.

In Sao Paulo, Brazil, music played a very big part in telling people what they shouldn't do. They shouldn't steal, shouldn't be involved in drugs. We used to play for the people all night and it did make a big difference.

Atlanta has a horrific crime rate. When we went there we held a basketball championship from midnight to four in the morning. This kept the boys away from all the things and the crime rate halved before we left from there.

Another example is Kenya. People live there in very poor conditions, and some living in the slums wanted to play in the football league but no one would take them. So the slums of Nairobi started a football league on their own. We devised a points system for them: two points for a win, one point for a draw and one point to any team that comes and helps clean the slums on Saturday morning. What happened was phenomenal: the slums looked better and the winners went on to play in the national league.

Why hasn't the England team done well in major tournaments?

We have very good players and very good coaches. But when the event comes they don't quite seem to be doing well. We are a footballing nation, and if we call ourselves that we should be able to do better than what we have.

Some teams like to play defense. Our team has always played adventurous football. If you play defensive football no one will watch it. We play attacking football and that why English football is so popular.

Manchester United hasn't been consistent at topping the league table.

We haven't been able to do well for three seasons and there are various reasons for that. We have good players and we will make the jump; it is always like that. Whenever we seem to be lagging behind the team does well and we manage to end the season in top three.

Has Greece winning Euro 2004 showed that there is greater depth in European football?

The championship in Portugal showed us how to defend and how to succeed. No one is afraid of anyone now. People know how to defend well and are hence successful.

Do you think comparing Wayne Rooney with you is justified?

He (Rooney) is a very talented young footballer. We didn't think we will get him this season itself, but Newcastle came intoWayne Rooney the race and we had to make ourselves available because players like him come once in a while.

He is a great prospect. If he uses his brains, if Alex Ferguson works on him like he works on the rest of the squad, his future is secure. And if his future is secure it is good for him and for England.

I don't want to compare anyone. Everyone is different. He has a very good vision and he picks up the bad habits as well as he picks up the good habits. If he learns to pick up the good habits, as I said, his future is secure.

How can countries like India start doing well in football?

Football culture is non-existent in India. Your culture is cricket. But for a country of one million not to have a football team of some substance is strange. It's the same with China. For India to start forcing themselves in football, they have to first do well in Asia Cup and Asian Games. Then only will they have the confidence to go forward.

It will be difficult, but India must buy the best football cultures. They have to buy the best coaches and best players to get the country excited about it. In a huge country like India all it takes is a spark. Just imagine if they qualify for the World Cup; just imagine. It will be fantastic.

The English Premier League is popular in India and is a huge potential market. How important is it for the game that the country does well in football?

Honestly, I look for Indian football. I look for football in China. But it is almost non-existent in the news. What would be good for football is India doing well, China doing well, the USA doing well. We need countries with population more than a billion to do well, because even if it starts small it will explode.

Which teams do you rate as the best in the world?

Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Italy, England, Holland. The African nations also show promise but they fail on important occasions. They have the same culture as India. They don't have the finance to get in the best. Countries like Nigeria and Kenya should do well. I saw some of the Kenyans and they are huge. If Kenyan football was successful they could make a great impact. 

Photograph: Getty Images

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