A former titan of the game with team and individual plaudits aplenty, Patrick Vieira has played at top clubs across Europe and is widely credited with redefining the role of the modern defensive midfielder – we were lucky enough to grab a few words with him at the launch of the Western Union PASS initiative.
Do you think England have a chance of victory in the World Cup in Rio 2014?
Yes I believe that miracles can happen in football but can they win the World Cup in Brazil? No I don’t think so! But I think the beauty of the game is the fact that anything can happen and I know what I am talking about as in 2006 no one believed that France could go through to the final and I think we see surprised everybody game after game and that can happen to England or to any team that wants to be successful.
But I think that England have a long way to go because winning the World Cup is something tough, it is something really difficult and in our time with the French team we were really lucky because we had a special player like Zindane.
You need a big player to perform at the right time and I believe with all the top players from England performing all together at the same time then they will have a chance and we are talking about 4, 5, 6 players not just one and I think if they all perform together at the right time together then they have a chance because there is no doubt that there is quality in the English national team.
How important would a winter break be for England?
First of all I think to win a big tournament like the Euro’s or the World Cup you need talent in your team and I believe that there is talent in the England national team and a winter break I think is really quite important because when you are getting to the end of the season in a World Cup year it is a long, long season because you get tired physically and mentally and to go back to a major tournament is always difficult. But this is one of the reasons I believe but maybe not the only one but overall I think when you have talent in your team you can win big trophies.
Where Manchester City disappointed to miss out on some big signings over the summer?
I don’t know if City are disappointed of not signing some big names over the summer like the press have spoken about but I believe that the team is strong enough to challenge in all the competitions they will be getting involved with and when you look back on the last few day we signed Maincon who I think is one of the best players in his position. We signed Javie Garcia who is a young talented player as well. So I believe that the team is strong enough to challenge any of the teams in the league and in the Champion’s league.
What are Manchester City’s chances of winning back to back titles?
I think that City’s chances to win the league will be more difficult than last year because I believe that City will be the team to beat, last year we proved to everybody that we are a really strong football club on and off the field as well and it will be more difficult. But I believe that City are good enough to win the league again.
How tough is Man City’s group [in the Champions League] considering Real Madrid and Dortmund are in it?
I believe that the group in the Champions League is the most difficult group of all but it is really exciting and I think the fans must be really please and really happy because three years ago City where playing against small teams and where fighting to not go down and now we are going to receive Madrid, Ajax and Dortmund, last year we had Munich.
I think that is what the fans want when you compete in the champions league, you must expect to play against these kinds of teams and I think this is the way you learn. This is the way you progress and this is the big stage. Against these kinds of football clubs you want to perform so it is really exciting I think this is a good group, difficult but good.
Who are your favourites for the Champions League?
So the favourites for the Champions League… it is going to be really, really difficult because you are talking about teams like Real Madrid, like Barcelona, like Bayern Munich who I believe will be in the last four, the last eight but I hope that City will be one of the surprises of the competition even if I know we are quite far behind these kind of clubs because the history behind this kind of club is really quite important and we are far away behind. If I really had to give you a name I would go for Barcelona.
How strong is the Europa League this season?
The Europa League is really exciting because for the last three, four years it has become more and more important and more and more difficult to win it and when you look at the teams now playing in the Europa League in France I would say, Lyon, Marseille, Boudreaux are in the Europa League and there are so many big clubs as well. In the last three or four years it has become more and more competitive.
Who are your favourites in the Europa League?
The favourites for the Europa League I would have to say… Athletic Madrid really impressed me last year by the way they played and the way they played against Chelsea. If I had to give you a favourite I would have to say Athletic Madrid but I hope that some of the French team’s like Marseille, Bordeaux or Lyon will do well because they are the three biggest clubs in France.
What is currently the best league in the world?
I think the best league in the world no doubt about it is the English league because this is now where all the players want to come, all the big foreign names want to play in England and the league is now so competitive and I think you have five or six teams that could win the league, that makes it really exciting.
When I go back to France it looks like they are following the Premier League more than the French League and I think that says everything, so yes, no doubt about it, the English Premier league is the best league.
What’s the right balance between training young players and education?
Being part of the academy, I think what we really want to do is of course for the young players to become good footballers but to be a good human being as well and a good professional. They have to grow up with a lot of pressure on their shoulders and we want them to be a role model for our society.
We are taking the education part really seriously because we believe that they have to be good players and good human beings and a good person as well so our focus on education is really, really important but overall we want them to be good footballers as well.
What is the Western Union PASS initiative?
The Western Union pass initiative is one pass equals one days education and it starts this year in the Europa league and 11 counties will be part of the project. I am really happy to be part of it because I know how education is important for the young people.
What are your experiences of education growing up in Senegal?
I was born in Senegal in Africa and the education wasn’t the best, I think one of the ways to become successful and to be somebody is to… football was one of the ways to be successful and I realise how education is important because I think education will give you more opportunities in life to choose what you really want to do.
To get the focus and to work hard and if you believe in yourself you can find your way. It took me time to understand it but I believe that the future of the world and especially in Africa is education and this is the reason that I am really pleased to be part of the Western Union project.
Patrick is an ambassador for Western Union’s new PASS initiative, turning every pass in this season’s UEFA Europa League into funding for one day’s education for young people around the world.