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Sir Bobby Charlton TalkAsia Interview Transcript


Airdate: May 28th, 2005

AS: Andrew Stevens
BC: Bobby Charlton

Block A:

AS: Hello and welcome to TalkAsia, I'm Andrew Stevens. It's not often you get to meet a living legend, but for a whole generation of English football fans and well beyond that our next guest is indeed that. Sir Bobby Charlton, a member of the World Cup winning team of England of 1966, still the highest international scorer England has ever produced, and now a board member of the team that made him a star, Manchester United of course. Well Sir Bobby joins us here in Hong Kong where he's on a mission to promote Manchester United around Asia.

Sir Bobby, welcome to TalkAsia. Why do you think Man U. has such a strong following in Asia?

BC: Well I've thought about that myself quite often. I think that we've always had a philosophy at Manchester United about never being boring. And Matt Busby just after the war was the manager and he used to put in young players, that were a lot younger than was the norm, and it seemed to catch on. The public liked the idea of seeing young players and someone giving them an opportunity and a chance - and they were called the "Busby Babes". He put in sixteen and seventeen year old players, which is unheard of. And it's always been the philosophy of the club, to try to give young players a chance and give them the opportunity, and that's continued right up till today and Alex Ferguson does exactly the same. But from a...in the popularity question, you have to say that when Alex Ferguson came to us about fourteen to fifteen years ago, we hadn't been doing particularly well but suddenly we started to win championships. And it corresponded with the communications explosion where around the world you can switch your television on, you can almost see a live match every day. And at that particular time when the whole world was starting to take notice of football, Manchester United were there.

AS: Just how important then is Asia in the business sense to teams like Man U.?

BC: Well it's very important I mean I come over here quite often and whenever I come I'm staggered at the number of people who support our club. In China we don't know how many exactly, fans we have but it's many many many millions of fans. In Japan is the same, in Hong Kong, in Thailand, in Malaysia, in Singapore you know, it's the same everywhere I go.

AS: So you're talking about diehard fans here.

BC: Every newspaper that I speak to, every magazine; they are steeped in Manchester United. They know everything about Manchester United, about the players, about the history, who scored who, who holds the record for this and that, absolutely...it staggers me.

AS: Obviously a hugely popular game here in Asia, millions play the game as well. But we still don't see the skill levels...the teams are as good as they are in Europe or Latin America. Why do you think that is?

BC: There's no reason why they shouldn't be as good. In fact in the past, if you used to talk about Asia, it was with a bit of a joke because wherever you used to come across a professional team from Europe or from South America came across to Asia, it was sort of easy. You know but not anymore. Not anymore I mean it doesn't matter who you are. If you are coached well and your team are coached well and you have a discipline then you're capable of playing against anyone. And these days since Japan hosted the World Cup, you can't talk...you've got to talk really seriously about Korea, about Japan, about China, about the Asian countries because they are not a joke anymore. It's not a joke, it's serious stuff.

AS: How long do you think it will be then before an Asian team wins a World Cup?

BC: Eh...I don't know if I said ten, a dozen years I don't think that's out of the question.

AS: Ok, one question that some people say about this incredible support that the English and European clubs have in Asia is actually detrimental to the development of football in Asia. Do you agree with that? Do you think people are focusing too much on teams thousands of miles away instead of supporting the grassroots football here?

BC: I think that football in Europe is so available; it's so easily available to them that I think it's always going to be detrimental to the actual work with their own national teams and the ordinary club sides. I think it's always going to be because they're always going to be compared. But as long as your national team starts to do better, and in a perfect world Andrew when...if you try to look down the road, if they can supply the players with the money that they're getting in Europe and they could keep the good players here, then this becomes an area which is capable of doing anything.

AS: In the NBA basketball for example, Yao Ming has swept all before him. When would you think an Asian football player will do the same thing in European football?

BC: It could happen any time.

AS: Are you seeing them?

BC: I think it's distinctly possible that one of the great players in the world will be an Asian. Yeah I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be. It could be a little lad that's running around somewhere now in India or Pakistan who...who suddenly has given something that's naturally gifted you know. And you can't teach really naturally gifted players, you can't teach that. And there will be one that comes along and once that happens then there will be an explosion of interest here.

AS: That's all you need isn't it, just that one person to kick start it all. Sir Bobby please stay with us, we're going to take a short break here on TalkAsia. When we come back we're going to be talking about the golden days of English football, of course that was 1966, the World Cup Final, a team which Bobby Charlton was part of. We're going to be asking him when he sees those golden days coming back.

Block B:

AS: Welcome back to TalkAsia, our guest today is Sir Bobby Charlton, a member of the 1966 England World Cup winning squad. That was nearly 40 years ago Sir Bobby, you were 29 years old, England beat Germany 4-2 in extra time. How much of that game do you remember?

BC: I remember almost all of it; my mind was totally focused on the game. We'd beaten Portugal in the semi-final, we'd reached the World Cup final, and for every player that dreamed of being a footballer, this was the ultimate. You were actually getting a chance to win the World Cup.

AS: And when did the team think to themselves we can really do this. Because I've read when you beat Mexico 2-0, and you scored a stunning goal in that game, that was when there was the belief that the team could go all the way.

BC: I think that...I think that was a little bit of a turning point, that goal. Because it actually made people say, oh yeah ok we're going to win it. But the players, we felt we were going to win it confidently about two years before. We traveled...we traveled with a new system of play. Alf Ramsey was the manager, suddenly decided the system was going to be 4-3-3, where you didn't play without wing players, which was unheard of. But once we got into it, into the system, we went everywhere -- we traveled all over the world; we beat everyone. And we knew that we were the favourites for the World Cup and we expected to win it.

AS: It's interesting, you mentioned Sir Alf Ramsey as the architect of all this, Franz Beckenbauer said Bobby Charlton was the reason England won the World Cup.

BC: The normal way that Alf Ramsey would tell you who was playing would be on the bus after you finished training on the Friday night on your way back to the hotel, and he would stop the bus and he would explain to you what the team was. And the following morning he would have a meeting with the whole team and then just before you went out he would go round at least each individual player and tell them what he expected of them as individuals. And he told my brother he was to...he was tall, so he was to handle anything that came high, Gordan Banks the goalkeeper and him, Bobby Moore anything that came short, sweep it out, get it out, give it to your midfield player, bring everybody out again. And then he came to me and he said, "The only person that can stop us winning the World Cup is Franz Beckenbauer. He's young, he's impetuous, he goes into positions that can really damage us, he goes into the 18 yard areas, we don't want him to go in there." He says, "I want you to stay with him for the whole game." He says, "I don't want you to be further away from him than 2 or 3 feet. Stick with him and if he doesn't play we'll win." And I thought well if we're going to win I'm prepared, that's alright with me. And what I didn't know was that Helmut Schoen, the German manager told Franz Beckenbaur the same thing about me. And honestly we ran together for the whole of the 120 minutes, we went everywhere together, we didn't hardly take part in the game, it just bypassed us. But Alf Ramsey was justified because at the end of the game we won the match. (AS: You won the match). And he was right

AS: A long time ago now, what's happened since?

BC: Well every time England qualify for the World Cup the fans have expectations that they're going to win and the few times it's been disappointing. Sometimes I've really thought that we have a good chance and we've not made it. But this year I think they have a really good chance, a realistic chance. We have strength in every position, we're going to Germany where the temperature will be quite temperate and I think that given a fair crack of the whip and a little bit of luck I think England have every chance. I think they've got as good a chance as anybody that's going to be there this time.

AS: So do you think something went wrong with how the game was played over the last 40 years? Or was it just...just there were better teams out there?

BC: From England's point of view I think we've always had this philosophy of going forward and being adventurous and I think it's sometimes been to our cost. I think that we have to have good defense as well, we have to have creative midfield and you have to be lucky to have a good group of players Andrew, that come together at the same...right time.

AS: And 2006, this is what you'll see?

BC: I think so. I think it's as good a squad as we've had since '66, yes. (AS: Really?) Yes.

AS: Just...just talk us through the strengths of this team. What do you really like about them?

BC: Well I think defensively you know with Terry, who is really really good, Rio Ferdinand, really good defender, you know Sol Campbell. At the back...at the back it looks really really solid there. Goalkeepers change but I think that realistically that pivot, that pivotal area is well covered. In midfield we've got...Lampard is playing really well and I think that David Beckham, there's a lot of skill and innovation in there, in the midfield. With Michael Owen, with Wayne Rooney, you know there are goals...there are goals in the England side this time.

AS: Sir Bobby bear with us, you are watching TalkAsia, we have to take a short commercial break now. When we come back we're going to be talking a little about the modern game; we're also going to be talking about how the game has changed and Sir Bobby's views on some of the incidents that formed his footballing career through his life. Stay with us.

Block C:

AS: Welcome back to TalkAsia, our special guest today is Sir Bobby Charlton, former winner of the World Cup with England in 1966, a former European player of the year, a current board member with Manchester United. And Sir Bobby just before the break we were talking about the new players and the prospects for the World Cup. I just want to ask you about this cult of personality that has crept into the game. It has always been there but it's so much more prevalent now, there's so much more pressure on young players, extremely talented, extremely rich. Is this detrimental to the actual game itself?

BC: You can't say that it's detrimental because the growth of the game has never been more popular. But its personality and there's so many people want to know about everything about their favourite players. It could be David Beckham, it could be Wayne Rooney - young players who the media want to...seem to be wanting to put into their pages everyday, whether they've done anything or not. (AS: Does that worry you though?) It worries me...it worries me a bit because I'm a fan like everybody else now, I mean I'm retired I don't play football anymore. But with regard to England for example, I'm a fan like everybody else, I want to see them win. And if I see this overpowering presence of the media I sometimes think to myself how can we possibly...how can we possibly think about winning the World Cup when all this extra pressure is on them. But I assume that it's the same for every country now and it's something that we're going to have to live with. It's communication, people want to know, they want to see, they want everything explained to them...(AS: So just the way the modern world works now they have to be...) It is and they have to learn to live with it. And one of the reasons I think that England will do quite well, I think that we can handle it quite well.

AS: Interesting contrast in your playing days, obviously you played alongside George Best. George Best, very famously and very highly publicized went off the rails, you never did. What was the difference between the two of you? You were at the same level; you were at the same talent...

BC: Well I think it was the timing you know, George was like the swinging 60s that came in and this sort of culture of building up someone to star status was never known in the football world - but suddenly it was. Suddenly if you were a footballer like George Best, who was unbelievably gifted and was everything that anybody ever wanted. You know he was exciting, he was good looking lad you know the girls went crazy over him so the papers couldn't get enough of him. And I think that since that time I think that's what's created what we have now.

AS: But you were never tempted if you like? You were...

BC: No I like to drink, I like to drink but I never did it to excess. I don't think I did anyway. And I...the only thing I could say about George was, and I've criticized him before, is that he was such a great player, he was such a great player that he denied people seeing him because he finished so young. His career...you know when he was 26, you know he suddenly stopped playing at the highest level. Twenty six, which is not old for a footballer, but he was such a great player I think he denied the people's opportunity to watch him.

AS: Just want to go back to something we were talking about earlier. Just...the cult of the player and obviously the pulling power of the player in dollar terms. Let's take someone like David Beckham who can move a lot of shirts and can make a lot of money for a club. No doubt about his talents. But is there a danger that the club ends up putting people in the team on their merchandising prowess rather than their sporting ability.

BC: Andrew that's the job of the manager, that's the coach's job. He's the one that has to make sure that the dressing room is stable that there is no hidden agendas and he knows everything that's going on. And I think that it's the type of exposure that sometimes can...you can criticize a manager for you know that he doesn't have the patience with somebody. Like what happened with David Beckham, he left Old Trafford and it was...and Alex Ferguson was quite prepared to let him go...

AS: Would you have made that decision were you coaching them?

BC: I didn't have to do that. I didn't have to make the decision and I would never deem to tell Alex Ferguson what to do because he's such a talented and gifted...maybe the greatest club manager that's ever been. So I didn't argue with Alex. If he says he thinks it will be for the long term betterment of the club...

AS: So boil it down it's still about what happens in the dressing room, it's about...

BC: It's winning, it's winning. And you win more if you have a happy dressing room.

AS: Do you think the coaches have a much tougher job these days than they did when you were playing?

BC: They have more to do, more to do with the media. I think the media more than anything else. It's the time you know, they have to spend a lot of time and commit a lot of time to themselves and...

AS: But do they have to be little nursemaids as well?

BC: Yes, yes, they have to be. You know you've got young players who suddenly you know given all this money and they have to keep their feet on the ground and that's what the manager's job is, as much as anything else is to make sure that they keep their feet on the ground and that they're going to last for ten, fifteen, in a perfect world twenty years..

AS: I wanted to ask you personally with your glittering career, football career behind you, any ambition unfulfilled on the field?

BC: I'd like to win the Champion's League again and I would like England to win the World Cup. I would, I would because...

AS: But you as a player, is there something that you didn't achieve that you wish you had?

BC: No. I couldn't have been so lucky again. I was really lucky: I played with good players, every competition that I went into, you know we succeeded -- we won the FA Cup, we won the European Cup, we won the World Cup. I'm not greedy.

AS: You survived a near death experience in Munich -- air crash tragically killed seven of your teammates in 1958. What impact did that have on you? How did that change your sporting outlook?

BC: Suddenly at that particular time when it happened I'd just got into the first team and I didn't expect I'd be in the first team forever. And I was one of the young players who people would make...they would allow little bits of bad performance. But afterwards I suddenly was one of the older ones and there was a responsibility in that.

AS: You grew up fast in other words. You had to grow up fast...

BC: In a way, in a way. Although I tried...I still did things for myself. I still do things for myself. I wanted to be a good footballer and I still was conceited enough to think that you know that I could get picked for England one day. But I was thrust into it after Munich and it was...(AS: Was it still a pleasure to play?) It was a great tragedy...No it wasn't a pleasure to play at that particular time.

AS: How long did it take for you to start enjoying the game again?

BC: I think Matt Busby, when it happened, he said that it would be maybe five years before he could ever get anything like that standard of a side together again. We won the cup in 1963, and I think that was about the time when I thought right well...he was spot on you know, but Man United had survived and it had gone on.

AS: What do you say when people say that the big clubs around the world use Asia as sort of a cash register, just to move shirts and fill their own coffers?

BC: Well, they don't really. It's common sense, if we do our homework properly and we find out where our fans are then we have to try to satisfy them - we wouldn't dare not to. The number of invitations I have to come to the Far East and all they ever talk about...all they ever talk about is football. And it's our responsibility, we're a business, and if we can make profit to maintain the high standards that they expect you know they're quite prepared to maybe suffer in silence sometimes. But at the same time the availability of watching them live on television is always there for them and they love being part of our club.

AS: Sir Bobby Charlton it's been a pleasure to talk to you. And that's TalkAsia, I'm Andrew Stevens, I hope you've enjoyed the show. We'll be back at the same time next week.


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