The former full-back reminisces about his time at Montreal Impact, discusses what Canada’s national team can do for football in the country and reveals why France, the second-favourites in the latest football betting, can win the World Cup.
How did the move to Montreal Impact in Canada come about?
I finished my spell in Italy and I was looking at other options.
Montreal Impact’s coach was Remi Garde, who had been there for a year already and I knew him well.
I always wanted to experience MLS and I was linked to Atlanta United when I left Man City. It was too early for me to join but I always had this in my mind. For me, the following year was the right time to go and sign and have this experience.
I could have stayed in Europe a bit more, but for some reason teams didn’t show a lot of interest [laughs].
I had an opportunity and I was really happy to change environment, change life, to go to the other side of the world and see how it was. I used to watch when Robbie Keane was there, when Drogba was there, so I was excited to go.
For me, flying over and being able to speak French on the street was very strange. To fly so far and to see French culture is like living in France but with American infrastructure.
What is the standard of MLS like?
I love the commitment of the fans, it’s a league that’s growing fast.
They have good players but they used to lack organisation. So the structure of the team within games was not always perfect.
I think every team can improve on that aspect but I believe within two or three years it’s going to be a solid league.
Do you feel that there is passion for football in Canada specifically?
To be honest, not yet. It was a disappointment for my kids because they used to play football and when we joined Canada they started playing hockey.
Regarding football, they are not playing it enough. There are not proper academies. It’s all about hockey.
I believe it will change because the national team has qualified for the World Cup, so they will be able to see and feel the vibe from football.
Knowing that the World Cup is coming to Canada in 2026, too, is a massive push. I believe the mentality will change and you’ll have many kids playing football.
You need to create an ecosystem. You need the kids to be out playing football on the street. Surely this will happen with all of the excitement around the national team.
Talking of the World Cup, how do you see France performing in Qatar this year?
It’s all about the French team. If they want to be champions, they will be champions.
If they manage to keep the focus from the beginning to the end, stay away from all the social media side, create a bubble and stick together, they will be champions.
The number of players we have in France is a joke. We could have three national teams today and they could all be world champions.
The way we learn football, the way our players come through academies, it is the best in the world.
I am not surprised that now we have the biggest talent pool around.
It’s all about the focus. That’s what they managed at the World Cup 2018 and what was missing at Euro 2020. We heard negative stories about the families, but not enough from the players.
If they can stop and focus, who can beat them? I don’t see one national team that can beat France today.
Imagine today being a full-back, in charge of Mbappe, and after 60 minutes they bring Coman on. How are you going to deal with that? It’s my worst nightmare!
And what about England’s chances?
England’s fortunes have always been decided by how they deal with the environment, not about the players themselves.
The press in England is so harsh at times on the players. I believe it had a big impact on them, too much of an impact. All the newspapers, all the podcasts, all the radio shows. It’s all too much noise.
Players are under so much pressure that they don’t perform how they should.
For me, this is a solid team. It’s young, and it might not have top, top international experience, but I believe they can perform.
I don’t think they can beat France, though.