With exactly 100 days to go until Qatar’s FIFA World Cup gets underway, Marcel Desailly is confident the tournament will have a hugely positive impact on the country and region.
A FIFA World Cup winner with France in 1998, Desailly remains a legendary figure in the game after a trophy-laden career with Marseille, AC Milan and Chelsea. The central defender also made more than 100 international appearances for France – and was a pivotal part of squads which won both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship.
Desailly is also a familiar face to people in Doha after turning out for Al Gharafa and Qatar Sports Club towards the end of his career. The central defender claimed the Qatar Stars League title with the Cheetahs in 2004-05.
With the eyes of the world turning to Qatar ahead of this year’s tournament, Desailly spoke about the impact of hosting the FIFA World Cup and asked what advice he would give to the players representing Qatar on home soil.
You played for France when the country hosted – and won – the FIFA World Cup in 1998. What was it like to be part of international football’s showpiece event in your home country?
Hosting the World Cup was a huge thing, as there is always energy that comes with being involved in the competition. It’s the biggest sporting event on the planet – nothing else compares. It had a significant impact on France back in 1998.
What was your reaction when you heard Qatar would be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup?
I remember I was in France. It was a real pleasure for me to hear that the World Cup was finally going to a region where it had never been before. That makes a difference. For the Middle East to be offered huge exposure through football, I was delighted.
How important is it that the World Cup is being held in the Middle East and Arab world for the first time?
Very important. It’s all about sharing the World Cup with every part of the globe. We saw that with South Africa in 2010, so it needed to come to the Middle East. There’s been infrastructure put in place, which has boosted the economy of the region, whether it’s stadiums, roads or subways. I’m just thrilled that young kids in the Middle East are going to have their World Cup; their reference point. They’ve watched it take place everywhere else and it never came to this region before – so it’s a real pleasure for them to host it now.
This World Cup will be the most compact tournament in modern history, with the longest distance between stadiums just 75km. How do you think this will benefit the fans and players?
It’s wonderful to have this World Cup in Qatar because we’ll be able to have as many as four matches on the same day in one place. Then during the off days, fans can visit Qatar’s many tourist attractions or go for a trip to other countries in the region. What will also be good is that the teams will be able to recover between matches more quickly because there will be fewer journeys and no flights required. They will all stay in the same accommodation and use the same training venues throughout the tournament.
What advice would you give to the Qatar players, who will be competing in their first FIFA World Cup?
For Qatar, it’s all about managing the pressure because they will indirectly be at 120% of their capacities, and an engine working at 120% is an engine that can break. That’s where you have to manage it – you have to know how to anticipate it to be able to perform. You don’t need 120%, you need 100%. With the extra 20%, you have to know how to get over it to put it aside and stay on 100% with discipline and attention. You need to be motivated, but not to a point where you are going to make fouls that may put you out of the game.
How often are you reminded of being a FIFA World Cup champion?
I must admit that I didn’t realise the importance of it when I won the World Cup in 1998. It was in my post-football life that I really felt the importance of the World Cup. In fact, people talk to me about the World Cup every day. There is not a day that goes by without someone making a reference to the World Cup. The fact that we won this competition brings me energy, and that is magical.
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