Soccer Aid stars excited to play at Old Trafford
There may still be another couple of weeks before Manchester United are back in action, but there's a big game happening at Old Trafford this Sunday night with a number of Red legends and celebrity fans determined to taste victory in the 2020 Soccer Aid for Unicef match.
Wayne Rooney, Bryan Robson, Darren Fletcher, Wes Brown, Andrew Cole, Patrice Evra and Mikael Silvestre will all be back at their former home for the big charity game which raises vital funds for Unicef to help children across the world. And they'll be joined by a host of celebrity Reds including the likes of singer Olly Murs, rapper Santan Dave and TV presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner Ore Oduba.
We caught up with a number of those involved to find out how preparations are going for the match, what Wayne's really like as England manager and why the Soccer Aid World XI are confident of holding on to their trophy...
DARREN FLETCHER [WORLD XI]
“Wayne might be the England boss for Soccer Aid but I’ve already told him I’m going to help inflict his first-ever defeat in management! [Laughs] He’s proper up for it and excited and I’m sure it’s a glimpse into the future as I think we’ll see Wayne managing somewhere, possibly one day as England manager, that’s how far I think he can go in the game. It’s brilliant to have him here and it adds a bit more spice to it for us because we’re good friends and very competitive.
“The last few days have been going really well and I’m really enjoying myself. Training has been good and fun, and I’ve been really surprised by the standard of the celebrities. Santan Dave is really good and a big United fan, Iain Stirling has done well too. Everyone has been good and we’ve got a really high standard. The England team are watching us train and off the back of it they’re proper nervous!
“Stepping out at Old Trafford just always feels normal and it feels like home; it’s the greatest football stadium in the world, the Theatre of Dreams. I do always have that moment, from my debut to now, when I walk onto the pitch and take a moment or so to appreciate it. It’s my second home. I always think about Champions League nights whenever I go back there. There was something about them that was special, the atmosphere and everything, you dreamed about those nights and I had so many special ones.
“My advice to those who have never played at Old Trafford is just to enjoy it and relax. I’ve said to the lads in our team to just try to pass to feet, don’t go for the glory pass, you need to build your confidence so go for the simple passes to feet. That then gives you the platform to express yourself. Mistakes will happen, everyone will make them, including me, but you have to just try and relax and enjoy it.
“Of course we want to win and have fun, but the most important thing about the match is raising as much money as we can for Unicef and I know every pound donated is being turned into three by the Government so it’s a great opportunity to raise vital funds. United have worked with Unicef for many years so it’s a relationship I know a lot about and it’s a fantastic charity and the money will go to great causes. We all can’t wait for kick-off now.”
OLLY MURS [ENGLAND]
“The last few days have been amazing. Seeing United greats left, right and centre around the place is just awesome. Wayne’s here, Fletch, Mikael, Patrice, Robbo and Wes, they’re just great lads and we’ve loved hearing the stories about United. Just having their presence here is brilliant and let me tell you Wayne is ruthless as a manager. On the first day in training he was like ‘why are you doing that? Come on guys, get stuck in’… it was brilliant!
“I’m so desperate to score at Old Trafford. I’ve scored a couple of goals in training and nutmegged Gareth Barry - I did that for Giggsy because he, not Gareth, should have the most appearances in the Premier League! [Laughs] But I’ve had a shocker with trying to score at Old Trafford [in previous Soccer Aid games]. For me, though the most important thing is we win the game and we raise lots of money for Unicef. I’ve seen with my own eyes the great work that they do and the money really does change lives.
“What do I think of when someone says Old Trafford to me? Sir Alex Ferguson, the legend. I remember his last game, the atmosphere, everything about the place is amazing and I’ve been watching a lot of old United games in lockdown. It’s just home, any United fan feels the same whenever they walk in there. It’ll be strange this year with no fans as we always get such amazing support at Soccer Aid but walking out at Old Trafford will never, ever get old. It’s an honour.
“In terms of danger men for the opposition, I’d say Robbie Keane and also Fletch in midfield. He’s a box-to-box player with so much energy and he’s only just recently retired. Robbie is just a phenomenal striker and he’s scored a few goals at Old Trafford and he’s been doing the same in training. But you only need to look at our squad to see the great players we have so it’ll be a pretty even game. Our boys are all prepared, we’ve been training hard and it’s been brilliantly organised with everything that’s gone on. We’re all ready for game-day now."
ANDREW COLE [ENGLAND]
“There’s a real winning mentality amongst us all at Soccer Aid, especially the United lads. It’s been brilliant to see them all and I’m really looking forward to the game now. It’s always nice to step out at Old Trafford. What springs to mind when you’re back there? Everything. Walking down the tunnel, getting on the pitch, usually we’re used to a full stadium but unfortunately that won’t be happening, but for me personally everything about it is magic, it’s always been a great honour to play at Old Trafford.
“Training has been good. Everyone is enjoying it although you can see a lot of nervous energy from the celebrities. The way they’ve trained it’s like it’s been matchday for the past two days! [Smiles] They’ve all been really good fun to be around and a few of them can play. I’ve told them to pace themselves though. Old Trafford is a big pitch and they don’t want to gas out after 20 minutes! They’re looking forward to it so much, the buzz around the celebs is huge, they cannot wait, it’s as though we’re building up to a Champions League final. Who are the danger men for the Soccer Aid World XI? I’m not fussed, I’m just focused on our team.
“The mentality and the spirit is good and it’s for such a great cause too and I know why so many people want to get involved. Unicef do so much for so many children throughout the world and it’s great we can make a contribution to that.
“Wayne has already stated how much he wants to win on Sunday which doesn’t surprise me! Winning is a real habit and I think when you retire you get even worse with it, you want to keep doing things that your body can’t do anymore. Hopefully we can get the win but the most important thing is to go out and enjoy it as much as possible.”
WES BROWN [ENGLAND]
“This is my second time playing in Soccer Aid and once again it’s been brilliant so far. It’s a great bunch of people coming together from all different industries and we all understand the importance of it for raising money for Unicef.
“There’s a big United influence in the group with Patrice, Mikael, Fletch, Wayne and Coley here – we see each other now and again but it’s nice to be back in a bubble together. I’m hoping Wayne can come on for 10 minutes actually! [Smiles] He’s enjoying his management role and gave a good speech on the first day of training. Make no mistake he wants to win, we all do.
“We’ve got a strong team… I love Alfie Allen in nets, he gives it everything. Tom Davis as well, he scored in training the other day and can be a threat in the air and then we’ve got Olly [Murs] and Wrighty [Mark Wright], who’s got a great left foot on him. Paddy [McGuinness] has been playing centre-back with me in training and he was brilliant. So we’re all up for it and we want to win.
“The Soccer Aid World XI look decent… Lianne Sanderson is very good. They’ve been training after us so I always stick around for 10 minutes to have a watch! They’re very organised, Michael Essien and Fletch have been sitting in the centre dictating play and Robbie Keane just scores goals. It’s going to be close, I think the teams are pretty even so it’ll definitely be a tight match.
“The advice I’ve given to our lads is just to shoot! Yung Filly and Chunkz… I’ve just told them to shoot! Of course the main thing is to enjoy yourself. It will be a different experience for a lot of the lads and it’s just brilliant to be on that pitch. I just smile whenever I go back to Old Trafford. It’s not often now that we get the chance to go back and play there now so anytime we can I do. I just love it, you take everything in every time you go back and I always try my best when I’m out there and that will be the case on Sunday night.”
ORE ODUBA [WORLD XI]
“My excitement scale and nervous scale are running concurrently right now! I’m quite terrified. I’ve been to Old Trafford so many times as a United fan but the idea of walking out onto that pitch being a bona fide player is mad. The 13-year-old me is basically getting his mind blown, I still have pictures of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs on my bedroom wall at my family home. This is genuinely a childhood dream for me. The camaraderie and the morale has been building amongst everyone in the last few days and we know when we go out there on the pitch it’s going to be fever pitch, it’s going to be like 50 kids at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!
“Training has been awesome. I’m playing in goal and for the most part of training I’ve had Fletch in behind marshalling everyone and being my protection. I’d like to say I play like Schmikes [Peter Schmeichel] or Edwin van der Sar, but the truth is I’m probably more like Fabien Barthez! [Laughs] I’m okay with that because I was a big fan of Barthez when he came to the club. He wasn’t the most traditional when it came to technique but he was a great shot-stopper and if I can pull off just one or two saves and become a GIF rather than a meme then I’ll be happy! I just really don’t want to make a howler.
“Having Robbo managing us with Harry Redknapp is amazing. He’s Captain Fantastic, one of the most legendary Man United and England players of all time. He’s been a great motivator for everyone and to me it’s just ridiculous but incredible to be sharing the pitch with Bryan Robson.
“Of course the circumstances around this Soccer Aid match are so different to past matches but what remains is the notion that we’re raising a lot of money for Unicef and hopefully even more than previous years, given every pound is getting trebled this year.
“I must say I feel the weight of responsibility on my shoulders as a debutant this year and we have to retain the trophy. It was a big deal for the Rest of the World to win it last year and with my Nigerian roots coming to the fore just to get into this team [smiles] I feel like we’ve got this. I don’t want to say it too loudly, but I really feel like we’ve got a good enough squad to get one over on England. They talk a lot, the England lads, but can they actually put it into action on the pitch? I’m not so sure!”
Soccer Aid for Unicef will be shown live in the UK on ITV1 from 18:30 BST; look out for the match report in our Official App and on ManUtd.com. To find out more, including how you can donate, please visit SoccerAid.org.uk