Humility and greatness go hand in hand
Kylian Mbappe, France, 2018
Kylian Mbappé was eighteen when he first entered the French team’s locker room. “It’s very difficult, he remembers, because the big players don’t want to give up their place to you. That’s what makes them great players. They don’t want to give you their place if you arrive with the label of ‘Future Great Player’.
In July 2018, at 19, Mbappé played in the World Cup final against Croatia. The night before, he recalls, “I was a little stressed. I haven’t been able to get much sleep. But the closer the match approached, the less stressed I was. When you are in the final of the World Cup, you are convinced that you will win. Even the Croats were convinced they were going to win. You walk on the field and the trophy is there, between the two teams, and you say to yourself that it is impossible for the other team to take it. That’s why there’s such disappointment afterwards if you don’t win.
“Now I don’t think about that trophy at all. I don’t look at World Cup photos before I go to sleep. Honestly, it’s the people on the street who come up and say, ‘You’re world champion, thank you, thank you.’”
Shortly after winning, he took the trophy to his home suburb of Bondy outside Paris, where thousands came out to greet him. “It was a way of saying thank you. I never forgot what soup I ate. It was therefore important for me to return there after my first World Cup and my first international title.
Notice that word “first.”
Interview in Neuilly-sur-Seine in 2021
Bad wins are still wins
Cafu, Brazil, 1994 and 2002
Brazilian right-back Cafu won the World Cup in 1994 and 2002. “In 1982 and 1986 Brazil played beautiful football,” he said. “But those who had the medals around their necks were the players of 1994, who didn’t play very well, but who were effective. Fact is we wouldn’t get five stars [for each World Cup victory] on our shirt today, the only nation [who has that], if we had not won as we played. Yes, the Brazilians complained about the style. Yes, we won on penalties. But we won, didn’t we? I have absolutely no regrets.”
Interview in London in 2012
Winning may not be the highlight
Bernd Hölzenbein, West Germany, 1974
Bernd Hölzenbein won the World Cup with West Germany in 1974. But he does not consider this victory as a central episode in his life or even his career.
“In the World Cup team, the big figures in the hierarchy were [Franz] Beckenbauer, [Gerd] Muller, [Wolfgang] Overath. I myself was younger, less important. But at Eintracht Frankfurt I was captain, and I have to say winning the UEFA Cup as captain was almost as important to me as winning the World Cup.
In fact, the German World Cup closest to his heart was victory in Bern in 1954. . These players were my idols. I devoured the books of Fritz Walter [Germany’s star of 1954]. 1954 is a symbol of resurgence. 1974 was less important.
Can Hölzenbein still remember his World Cup final, or has he been driven out of his head by decades talking about it on demand? “I don’t really remember,” he said.
Interview in Rotterdam in 2004
Rivalries don’t last
Jorge Valdano, Argentina, 1986
Jorge Valdano won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, in a team dominated by Diego Maradona. After Maradona’s two legendary goals beat England in the quarter-finals, Valdano teased him in the dressing room. As Maradona dribbled past six Englishmen for his second goal, Valdano ran alongside him to claim the ball. Why hadn’t Maradona come? Yes, replied Maradona, I was looking at you and I still intended to pass. But the English kept getting in my way, and suddenly I had passed them all, so I just scored.
Valdano asked in awe: “While you were scoring that goal, were you looking at me too? Old man, you’re insulting me. It’s not possible.
When asked if he liked Maradona, Valdano replied: “I to like Maradona. I am from the country of Maradona.
Valdano has lived in Madrid for decades, and Spain’s victory at the World Cup in 2010 reminded him of his own triumph. “It seems pornographic to me that 25 years have passed, because I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday. But when the Spanish players were receiving their medals, my daughter asked: ‘Where is your medal? My wife is went looking for it. Eventually, she found it. It’s now in a place where I can’t get to it,” he said with a laugh.
Interviews in London in 1998 and in Madrid in 2010
What a coach is worth
Carlos Alberto Parreira, Brazil, 1994
Carlos Alberto Parreira coached Brazil when they won the World Cup in 1994. “It’s not difficult to teach football to the Brazilian team. The value of the coach is to organize them as a team, to motivate them to sacrifice because “sacrifice” is not a big word in Brazil.
“Winning the World Cup changed my life. After being world champion, a trainer must change jobs. I should have become a football manager. I didn’t know it then. I said to myself: ‘This is not going to change my way of life, my behavior.’ Afterwards, I still found excitement in the day-to-day running of a club. But at the end of the day, if you win or lose, the emotions are not the same as if you won with Brazil in the World Cup.
“Look at César Menotti,” he said of Argentina’s 1978 winning manager. “I don’t think he’s won a league with any club since.”
Interview in Rio de Janeiro in 1999
Winning changes mindsets
Albert Sing, West Germany, 1954
Albert Sing played for the German national team in wartime under Sepp Herberger from October 1940 until the team was disbanded and the players sent to the front two years later. In 1954, Sing was coaching a Swiss club when Herberger – about to take West Germany to the World Cup in Switzerland – called to tap into his local knowledge and asked Sing to be his assistant.
“I called the general secretary of the German Football Federation and asked him: ‘Hey, where do you put the national team? Sixteen teams in Switzerland in June. It won’t be that simple. He asked me to choose hotels, and I chose the Hotel Belvédère in Spiez. The manager said: ‘Albert man, since the war I’ve only had Dutch people here. When they hear that the Germans are coming, the Dutch I told him that if Germany won, the hotel would be popular with Germans for years to come – and it was.
“Before the final in Bern, the Hungarians asked the gardener if they could use dressing room two. They had used it before the World Cup for a friendly match against Switzerland, which they won. Footballers are superstitious. The gardener told me, and I told Herberger. He said, ‘We’re going to piss them off a bit.’ So I asked the gardener to hang a sign saying “Deutschland” on locker room two. »
In the final, West Germany beat Hungary 3-2 to win their first World Cup.
Interview in Lugano in 2001. Sing died in 2008, aged 91.
You have to lose to win
Gerard Pique, Spain, 2010
Gerard Pique started with his hometown club FC Barcelona in 2008 at the age of 21. Two years later, he had won the Spanish league, the Champions League and the World Cup with Spain. “Everything happened so fast that I found it normal to win. When I started losing, I started to understand how much I had won. It was like you were going to play a competition like the World Cup or the league, and you’re going to win it. You start winning everything and you think, “You’re the best and you have to win. You can’t waste this opportunity. Because we were going at such a speed that we would beat any team placed in front of us.
Interview in Barcelona in 2015
All interviews from Simon Kuper’s notebooks
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