As I entered the Clear Dream Match 2013 press conference at the Makati Shangri-La, I was filled with anxiety and excitement.
This was the second match of its kind, initiated by James and Phil Younghusband, two Filipino-British football stars who are helping push the popularity of the sport in the country, in partnership with Unilever.
The first match, held Aug. 25 last year, was a great success, and this year’s Dream Match was bound to be even more so, as two international football legends were in the lineup.
Chelsea legend and FA Cup winner Dennis Wise and 2006 World Cup champion and Golden Ball winner Fabio Cannavaro were in Manila to play for Team Phil and Team James, respectively. In addition, they also made appearances at local youth camps before the game last August.
After the press conference, I had the privilege of interviewing Wise and Cannavaro:
How did playing for a top-tier team and winning multiple championships help you in your managerial career?
Dennis Wise (DW): What really helped me was what I learned from all the coaches I’d worked with. What happens is, you pick up things from working with them, and you use what you like in management. Being a player also helps a lot, because you know football, you know how things are done, and you can apply some of your own experiences.
You’re quite famous for your temper. Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United, once commented that “you could start a fight in an empty house.”
DW: (Laughs) It doesn’t really bother me, to be honest. People will always say things, you just have to learn to brush it off. I respect Alex, he’s a wonderful manager and a great guy as well, and these things just happen.
Filipinos are emotional people. We are very devoted to what we do, but at times we can get carried away. That being said, what advice can you give young people who, because of their passion for the game, are not always able to control themselves?
DW: Don’t lose your passion. You’ll sometimes step over the line; just try not to do it frequently. I myself have done it many times. These strong emotions are instilled in people, and you just have to learn to control them. Just make sure the passion doesn’t fade, because passion is the key.
What plans do you have, career-wise?
DW: At some stage I’d like to get back into management. Not at the moment though, as I’d like to see my kids grow up. That’s what’s important to me at the moment, so I’m taking a break.
These exhibition matches draw a lot of attention to the sport. Do you see yourself getting involved in any form of youth training here? Barcelona held a camp here earlier this year, and for the past few years Chelsea has had tie-ups with several local youth teams.
DW: I really don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m glad Chelsea sees the potential and the talent here. I’ve been asked to go to China, among other places, to do some coaching, and if Chelsea ever asked me to do some work here, I’m sure I would.
Do you believe the Philippines has a shot at one day playing on the same level as Europe or South America?
DW: If you get the grassroots right, I think you’ll have a good chance. You have enough people here, you have enough kids who want to play football, and so, in time, yes, it is possible. However, everything starts upstairs, and it is important to have people supporting the kids.
If you were someone other than a football star, who would you be?
DW: Prince William!
Throughout your career you’ve played for many teams—Napoli, Juventus and Real Madrid to name a few—but which team do you most associate yourself with?
Fabio Cannavaro (FC): I would have to say Napoli. I grew up there, it was my first team. My friends and family are Napoli supporters, my brother captains the team, Napoli is my favorite.
In the Philippines, we know James and Phil Younghusband as Azkals, members of our national team, but we also know them as Loyola-Meralco Sparks players in our local league. Based on your experience, how is playing for your country different from playing for a club?
FC: Very different. Winning with your club is one thing, but when you play for your national team, you are representing your country and your people. So when you win, you feel a greater sense of pride.
Some took up the sport late here. Would you say there is hope for such late starters?
FC: Most definitely, you just need to be committed. Play football in school, on the street, in the park. Football for me is magical, it is the best sport in the world, and all I can say is, follow your dreams, because dreams are very important.
How big a role did being around legends like Maradona and Ferrara have in shaping you?
FC: It played a big role. These players you idolize have the power to mold you. They have the ability to drive you to follow your dreams. In Europe, it is easy because we have so much exposure, but here you have very dedicated and committed players like the Younghusbands, whom you can really learn a lot from.
Given your beginnings as a ball boy for Napoli, and eventually playing for the club, did you ever envision yourself being where you are now?
FC: Never. I started playing football in the streets outside the San Paolo Stadium in Naples. After six years or so, I started playing inside the stadium for Napoli, and my life became totally different. I never could have imagined becoming who I am today.
What message can you give young people in the Philippines who are aspiring to one day become great in football?
FC: Just keep playing football and remember to have fun. You are blessed to be playing, in my opinion, the greatest sport in the world.
If you were to be someone other than a football star, who would you be?
FC: I don’t know, really, I’m happy being Fabio Cannavaro.
Last Aug. 24, the University of Makati Stadium was filled with the sounds of a roaring crowd and pouring rain, but despite the weather progressively worsening throughout the match, the enthusiasm of the crowd and the energy of the players increased and almost matched the intensity of the rain.
While Wise may be used to the wet English weather, even he may have been surprised by the grass pitch magically turning into mud, where the ball dropped dead instead of rolling.
Cannavaro lived up to his moniker “The Berlin Wall,” defending solidly alongside Yves Ashiene, who would later win Defender of the Match.
The crowd was amused when DJs Slick Rick, Tony Tony and Sam YG of Magic 89.9 were subbed in. My ears popped at the sound of shrieking girls when Daniel Matsunaga stepped on the pitch and began warming up.
James and Phil demonstrated their leadership as team captains by pushing, motivating and continuously kicking the ball when it got stuck in the mud. They kept the dream alive and fought till the end, and that’s what football is all about.
The match ended with a final score of 4-1 in favor of Team James.