Soccerlens Interviews Robbie Savage

Soccerlens caught up with Robbie Savage late last month to talk about the Just Play campaign by the FA and Mars, as well as chat about his career and lots more. Transcript of the interview is below the video:

Interview and videography by Laurence McKenna.

L:

So, thanks a lot for joining us, we really appreciate you sitting down. I know we took you away from your lunch.

So what made you decide to get involved with this campaign?

R:

Well, I’m recently retired, you know, I’ve been looking for a place to play around where I live and I live in south Manchester. A few of my boys go and play local football on a Monday night so I go along and play with them. It’s just about about just playing football, as the campaign is ‘Just Play’, in conjunction with the FA and Mars. Erm, it’s a fantastic thing, you know, because from the age of sixteen, you know the dropout of people playing football is quite high and because the jump when you are sixteen: you either go and play with men or so five-a-side, eight-a-side initiatives like this is fantastic and you can just go online, click just play and areas come up near you. You can just go along and play, whether you have a coach there, I think the aim is to get 150,000 people playing by the end of the year which is a fantastic objective. It’s a great thing. When I was a kid I used to go and play headers and volleys, Wembley, rush-goalie, you know just put your jumpers down and play football. I think we’ve lost that, so this initiative helps people to just go and play with their mates down the local park or in goals areas like this so it’s great and I’ve just had a kick about now and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

L:

So you are involved with this kind of thing and it’s obviously a really good initiative for the FA and it’s good to have players involved aswell. Do you think people get put off because they see the standard of football and they don’t think they can play at that level?

R:

Yeh I think. Especially at the age of sixteen, seventeen, because you know, if you’ve just left college arm there was no real under-eighteens, under-nineteens. So you go from a boy to play. You could be going to play on a Saturday or a Sunday or in the park with thirty or forty year old men and the jump is too big. By doing this you know you can get all your mates together and you can go into an area with cones, bibs and a coach, it’s a fantastic initiative. No matter if you are fat or if you’re thin, whatever you are: go and play. It’s great, brings people together and it keeps you fit. Again, in the year of sitting at home: Playstation, XBox, Nintendos, you know to go and play football with your mates down the park is the best thing. You know as a kid I used to go out in the morning at eight O’clock and went home when it got dark. You know? And that’s gone these days because obviously the pitfalls of society at the minute. Sometimes you know? I wouldn’t let my little boy play football. But with this, you know you have a recognised coach there and you have an area so it’s fantastic.

L:

So how do you go about getting your kids into football? Obviously you might have quite a direct route anyway, you know enough people who play football, but it must be tricky.

R:

Well obviously I’ve been very fortunate, I think, my little boy has come and watch me play and one if at United so he’s been very successful but all my mates now who are my age and when I go back to Wrexham, you know I’ll be going online, clicking just play and thinking: “Let’s go have a kick about”. You know, it’s fantastic. You can get people yo’ve played with, haven’t seen for years, going to play so it’s not so much at grass roots level this, it’s more for the sixteen, adults really. Going to play. And I’ve just recently retired so for me I need to keep fit.

L:

And are you managing to keep your health?

R:

Yeh, yeh I am, by doing, playing football. You know, playing five-a-side or six-a-side or eight a side down the park or with your mates, it keeps you fit. I was there and I was sweating. It’s tough. it’s very tough but again it’s just play football, it’s the best thing in the world. Best thing in the world.

L:

But you are sitting around a lot more in a studio aren’t you? And that’s clearly a good thing for your career swell, how have you got into that. Because Obviously you’re with 5 Live now, they’ve been training up footballers after they retire, and obviously you’ve gone through that process. How’s the transition been?

R:

It’s been very easy really. You know, because I can still play with my mates I’ve not missed football really if I’m being totally honest because I’ve had something to go into with the media. You know, a normal Saturday for me now will be: have a cup of tea with Kevin Keegan, talking about football and the next day doing a 6-0-6 show with Mark Chapman or Darren Fletcher talking about football, so and that will progress onto commentating on the Champion’s League. So it’s not a bad transition really and it’s something I’ve enjoyed. Erm, yeh.

L:

And you’re obviously, you know you talk about the transitions and going through talking, sitting down with Darren Fletcher and these lot. At one point they were kind of, the enemy at one point because they were criticising you.

R:

Yeh they were, I’ve met a few people who have criticised me and a lot of them are two faced. You know, arm, but my objective is: I had that with Joey Barton, I had go at Joey Barton on Match Of The Day 2 arm, you know but, I spoke to him after that and said: this is the reason why and you take it on the chin. What I don’t like is when people criticise you and then when they see you in a press room or something don’t look you in the eye. For me, if I’m going to criticise somebody which is part and parcel of their job: I know that now. So when they criticise me as a player I don’t mind that because that’s their job arm, but if you’re gonna be really harsh and really personal on somebody I think you have to explain why and front them up! And if you do that I think you gain respect better. There’s people that I don’t respect out there because the easiest thing to do is hammer somebody and never confront them. So for me if you have a go at somebody, it’s happened recently with Theo Walcott at the Emirates Cup, I had a go at him and said his final ball could be improved on so he phoned me up and said: “I disagree with you”. So we went through it and I put it right after the game and now I respect him even more and I think he respects me for having and opinion but being honest a changing my opinion. I think it’s great like that.

L:

Do you think that as a football player you understand the game differently? You know, there are journalists who have gone through football their whole life and they’ve never played a game.

R:

No I believe that everyone has an opinion. No matter, the opinion I took most of anybody was my father. My father never played football so there will be different scenarios, different situations in the pressure cooker of 50,000 people where you’ve been there but I still believe, people I work with, Darren Fletcher, he never played a level but his knowledge of the game is second to none. So, I’m not into all this: “If you’ve never played the game you haven’t got an opinion.” Everybody has the right of opinion. Some will be right, some will be wrong. Sometimes my opinion might be completely wrong, but it’s an opinion. It’s a game of opinions.

L:

So you’ve played at quite a few different set ups now which is obviously really beneficial. Looking back across your career, you know I’ve read plenty of interviews with you which were really quite interesting getting your final thoughts on your career. You know, retrospectively now in the media, what do you think about the way your career has panned out?

R:

I thought I was under-rated I believe. I believe for people to have such an opinion on me. You have to look at the people who bought me. Martin O’Neill, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, you know? People I’ve played under, Sir Alex Ferguson so. It’s, when people get, the easiest thing to do with people is criticise, not look for the positives. I look at my career as a positive, the argument to say that, we think in this country there are six million people in this country who want to play football, to play in the conference you have to be a good player because you think who many people miss out. So to play in the conference you have to be a good player. To play league football you have the be an exceptional player. To play in the Premiership you have be a great player. You know, I played there for eleven years. I’m not saying I’m a great player but if you think what people want to achieve to be a player at any level. I played in the Premier League for eleven years on the run, I don’t need to justify myself to people. Yeh, you could say I never played for a massive club, but for me just to play in the Premiership, week in, week out, fifty Premier League games you have to be a very, very good player. Yeh, I wasn’t the best; I didn’t have the most ability in the world but I did have the desire and the heart to succeed. I think if there were more people like me these days instead of looking at the financial rewards then we’d have a better place.

L:

So, do you think that’s what makes you the right sort of face to front this campaign? You weren’t that prima donna who went from club to club

R:

No, I went for over seven million pound in my career in transfer fees and yes I had a fantastic living but if I’d have just gone out on the pitch and strutted my stuff and tried to be clever I wouldn’t have succeeded, just the fact that I wanted to be play football, that was my biggest thing. Just wanted to play football; wanted to train every day; wanted to play on Saturday afternoons and I did for the majority of my career. All 620-odd games. You know, you can’t, nobody can knock that. But they do, people continue to do so. Unfairly. But that’s the nature. With me, you either love me or you hate me. I’m happy in myself. I’m happy what I achieve. As I say. You have to be a great player. You know, when people say about Premier League players, how’s he? You have to be a great player to play in the Premier League, to play football you have to be a good player.

L:

Do you get different reactions from different people when you go around? Do you think that people’s reaction to you changes when you play for their club?

R:

Yeh, it does. People who I’ve played for respect me hugely but there are pitfalls to being me sometimes. I was at United the other night with my little boy, having a photo with a guy and somebody ran out a car and punched me in the back of the head. That’s the pitfalls of being me, you know? People think that because you were quite physical on the football field they feel that they know you and feel that I’m just a normal person. But to do that to somebody with an eight year old boy hold hands with somebody and having a photo is wrong. It’s wrong. You wouldn’t go up to someone in the street and punch somebody in the head. It’s completely wrong. That is where you have to be careful, because it’s the pitfalls of being somebody in the public eye.

L:

If you got the chance to play with any of the greats – considering that we’re at a Just Play centre today – who would you have chosen to play with?

R:

Well I was fortunate enough to play with my hero Mark Hughes, he bought me, managed me and I played alongside him. So he would be my CF. Ryan Giggs, obviously the best Premier League player ever. Paul Scholes. There’s three. I’d have Brad Friedel in goal, who is still at forty or forty-one sensational – for Spurs the other night. And at the back I’d have to have Gary Speed when he played for Wales.

That is a fantastic team, but I’ve played with Roque Santa Cruz, Christophe Dugarry, Roberto Mancini, Benni McCarthy. I’ve played with some f…I was gonna say fat players then, I was thinking about Benni.

Some great players!

L: So Robbie, where can you go to find out about Just Play, the collaboration between The FA and Mars?

R:

It’s so simple. Just go online, search just play, click on it and you’re nearest centre will come up. It’s fantastic. Just, the ability to do that now. Just go out and play football, especially with a guy there who’s gonna set the session up for you. You’re gonna have balls, goals and drills. Fantastic!

L:

You’re famous for some of your international career and opinions. What are your opinions on internationals and the element of competition there?

R:

I think Wales is a team full of individuals. If you look at what we’ve got. We’ve got Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Craig Bellamy, Joe Ledley, David Vaughen. So we’ve got good individuals, but not yet playing as a team. That’s Gary Speed’s objective: to do what I believe John Toshack failed to do, is, get them players playing as a team.

Yes, John bought them into the fold but they would have got into the fold anyway. So I think it’s up to Gary now give them confidence and the belief that they are a good team, not individuals. England, again, I believe they’ll qualify for the Euros but will they succeed there. I think, with the earth of talent that we’ve got now – all you have to do is look at United play the other night – Rooney, Jones, Cleverley, Welbeck, Wilshere. The future could be bright for England.

I want to see England do well even being Welsh, because I’ve played with some of those players and watched those players and against them. So for me, it’s just as important that England do as well as Wales.

L:

Anymore managerial aspirations for you?

R:

No, I love football. I love watching and talking about it but the pressures of being a manager these days. Well, you lose four or five games – you could be out of a game. So I think I’m comfortable where I am.

German Bundesliga Transfers (Summer 2011)
Just Play Football