Marcel Desailly, the retired French football legend who played a pivotal role in France’s conquest of the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000, is currently spending several blissful days in the Maldives. In his words, it is a perfect vacation. Following warm welcomes, his days are filled with fun, exquisite cuisine, joyful times with children and a breather from daily life. On top of that, the former mid-field defender has also received the opportunity to experience football as it is played in the Maldives.
He arrived last Thursday on an invitation extended by Football Association of Maldives (FAM) to kick off the Ooredoo Dhivehi Premier League. In addition to observing the opening match of the league, the former star of A.C. Milan and Chelsea F.C. also held a training session for the participants of the Youth Development Program.
One of the most memorable moments of his visit, particularly for his Maldivian fans perhaps, is the football match he played with the staff of Jumeirah Vittaveli Resort where he is spending his stay. The captain who led France to victory in the 2001 and 2003 Confederations Cup enjoyed a full game with the employees on the staff pitch Monday evening, leaving behind some unforgettable memories for fans.
Following is his interview to Mihaaru’s sports journalist Mohamed Hamdhoon and some travel reporters. Seated casually on the turf of the pitch, he spoke of his experiences, including his opinions on two of the hottest topics in the world of football currently: Neymar’s record breaking transfer to Paris Saint-German and the rivalry of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
How is your stay in Maldives?
Very good. Because we obvious coming here to promote football. From the grassroots. So two days ago, I was at the federation program at the stadium; so great. You have a holiday entertainment and you promote my passion with sports and I could as FIFA see the good work that [capital] Male is trying to do and the challenges that we have today according to distant the island and everything. But football is here in Male'. I’m a witness.
You have seen the opening game of Ooredoo Dhivehi Premier League. Your thoughts about the level of Maldives football?
It’s good, it’s good. For the champions, Maziya is good. You can see that tactically they are well organized, but it was good for them to play against a new team (Kudahuvadhoo) who doesn’t have any experience in the game so it allowed them (Kudahuvadhoo) to grow in their capacity to understand, let’s say, the high level commitment. So first half was ok. They (Kudahuvadhoo) concede very quickly after they stayed play. They started to play.
This is your third time in Maldives. What’s you view on Maldives tourism?
Great, because you preserve your environment. It’s well organized; the community is benefiting of, you know, the work that the hotel is bringing in the system. So tourism is something very important for you.
Many retired players are now in coaching jobs. Will we see you in coaching?
I'm not sure, I’m an ambassador of football. I’m not sure I’ll be involved as a coach directly. I have my pro license, UEFA pro license. But I’m not sure. I’m so happy to work with the grassroots. With the charity, with a bit of business, you know, the mix of everything pleases me quite a lot. I feel much more committed and useful than becoming a coach. Zidane, Didier Deschamps, Laurent Blanc, Viera - all my generation are doing the job for me. So I’m fine.
How do you feel when you see them doing so well in coaching?
I feel good because they are legitimate (to become coaches). They were big soccer players and they had the transition to become coaches. So it’s good. It’s good to see them. It’s good to see Zidane that high in the coaching business.
What’s your view on Neymar’s big money transfer to Paris Saint-Germain?
I am part of the people who don’t see any problem with it. You are dealing with talent. You know I feel when they invest 400 million to make a movie, and they pay (Hollywood star) Brad Pitt for three-month work 30 million dollar. Nobody says anything, nobody says anything, that film will produce millions. So I conceded Neymar coming to France will raise the profile of France. Paris Saint-Germain will have a huge return in sponsorship and they would gain in merchandising. It’s a business.
It’s the fans and the media that has to understand that football had become now a business on its own. Taxi driver tourism, brokers, hotels - everybody would benefit from Neymar coming (to France). Chinse will come to Paris again more to have a picture of Neymar or come have a look at the stadium. We should not just stick to the 200 million that has been set. As I said, Formula One guys earning 50 million yearly, golfers earning 50 million yearly, so what are you talking about? Neymar is huge; he is worldwide. It’s football. So I'm part of the people who think that football will continue to grow and grow.
India have not come yet to system. They have set their league recently. America is trying to develop much more to the university. So once they boost the interest in football more and more. China is on it. They have started. They have been bit restricted by tax. So now they cannot buy the player anymore like they were doing before. But soon they will also come in the market. So football will continue to grow.
Neymar is not coming from yesterday to football. Since he is 9 years old, he is a phenomenon. He is an amazing player so he is benefiting from boost of the market. That’s it. It’s good for France football but that does not get any problem to general football.
Your former club AC Milan is on the rise with foreign investment. Are you happy?
I'm happy again (because of the rise of AC Milan). You should not be scared about money. We were scared because my former president Silivo Berlusconi gave up the club. So we were hoping that the club be active. Now we’ve seen them being active. They’ve been buying quite lot of players, but it will not be enough for the next two seasons. To create a foundation of the club, you need leaders; you need a lot of elements to be able to get the Milan, the big Milan of the 90s.
Which current player resembles your style play?
Nobody resembles me because now there are much more technical. The way they use the ball, the ability and the skills is much more accurate. I was a heavyweight in the football world. You don’t have any more of the type of players that I was before. You have Angolo Conte, you have Matuidi, you have Pogba; you know, very skillful. So football, technically, have really improved quite a lot.
Here comes the famous question. Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
I don’t support Barcelona either; I don’t support Real Madrid particularly. But it’s asking me to choose between one of my child. It is impossible. Look at the statics. Just look at the statics. If you are a fan of Barcelona, ok, go for Messi. If you like Real Madrid, go for Ronaldo. If you like the type of Messi shy - you go for Messi. If you look a bit, a lot of ego - you go for Ronaldo. But me, as a football expert, you cannot choose, honestly. These statics of these guys. How many hat tricks they score during the season? How much important they are for their team. They are just amazing. For that generation they will be for the history of football. Like Ronaldo the Brazilian, like Diego Armando Maradona, like Pele, like Cruyff probably. All of these guys who stays in the history. These two (Messi and Ronaldo) stands in the history of that generation. We hope Neymar will create the next 10 years of football with other players.
What are your thoughts on the France national team? Can they win next year’s world cup?
The Euro was tough because you losing final of the Euro at home, but I think it was too early for the team, there are having a lack of leaders. Lot of talent much better than our generation, they are better. But they need bit of experience and probably the World Cup could be the moment for France. Yes, definitely. (The time of France) It’s coming. (But) still Germany also, they won the Confederations Cup.