The World Cup is finally here. What are you most looking forward to? The games. Obviously it’s a long time away from home, but when the other teams are playing most of the lads will watch them together, and then when you have your own games, you can see all the fans who have travelled to the match and you have loads outside the hotel, so the atmosphere in the build-up is always brilliant.
Are you ready for the noise that is going to be created by the vuvuzelas? Well, it helps build the atmosphere. But I’m sure there’ll be loads of England fans and they’ll make their own noise.
Indeed, England are expected to take 60,000 fans, more than any country except the hosts. How much of a help could this be? The support we’ve had from the England fans in tournaments has always been brilliant, and we would expect nothing different this time around. There’s a lot of expectation on us and there will be times when we’ll need the fans to get us through games, and I’m sure that’ll happen.
Could playing in South Africa’s winter help? I think so, yeah. I played there a couple of years ago in the summer [in the Vodacom Tournament with Manchester United] and it was fine. When the games are played in the heat, like the last couple of tournaments have been, and you’re not used to it, you have to adapt. You lose so much fluid and somehow you’ve got to get that back into you – that can be quite hard. I’m sure if the weather’s more suited to English football it’ll be an advantage for us.
Have you ever played at altitude before? We played one game in Johannesburg in that tournament. There wasn’t any shortness of breath – it’s not a big factor. Besides, everyone has to cope with it, not just us, so it’s not a problem.
You were injured at Euro 2004, went into the 2006 World Cup having just returned from an injury and missed out in 2008. How much of a motivating factor will this be in the summer? Obviously I hope I can show the world me at my best.
What have you learnt from your previous outings at tournaments? You gain that experience of tournament football through playing in them, though you get that in the Champions League too, especially in the latter stages. It’s that experience that we might need if we get to the last four or the last eight of the competition. We have a lot of players who have been to the latter stages of the Champions League with their clubs and that should help us. I just hope this has a happier ending.
How different do things feel in this England squad compared to previous ones you’ve been involved with? I think they do feel different. Since I’ve been in the squad, the players have always got on with each other but since the manager came in he’s made team spirit one of the most important things. The attitude is 100 per cent for games and for training – that should stand us in good stead.
You’re regarded as England’s most important player, even though you’re only 24. How does that sit with you? I don’t think about it, to be honest. One player doesn’t make a team, and we have got a lot of players who can win you a match out of nothing, not just me, and we’ll need to do that to make sure we do well. The only way you can perform at your best is if you have the service and support of your team-mates.
Fabio Capello told FFT that he’d told you to “stay in front of the goal”. How important has he been in your prolific goalscoring, including nine goals in qualifying? It’s nice to score goals and draw confidence from that, and hopefully that will continue. It’s actually mainly at club level I’ve been in front of goal; with England I’ve been playing off [Emile] Heskey, in the hole, and then when we haven’t got the ball either me or Steven Gerrard go out and defend for the team on the left.
Being so energetic and such a team player, how hard do you find it not to drop deep? The more you play that role, the more you do it naturally, I think. If you’re up front on your own, you realise you’re the player who has to be there. But in the games we’ve played for England, I’ve been played deeper or wider.
As a new father, how difficult will it be to be away from your family for all but the odd day after matches? Capello says it’s a small price to pay for winning the World Cup – is he right? When you’ve a kid at home you’re going to miss them – that’s only natural – but you need to focus. You’ve got plenty of time to spend with the family when you get home. The manager’s right to say it’s worth [the sacrifice], because you need to be right physically and mentally to win the tournament, but if your family wants to be there, nobody’s stopping them. They’re England fans as much as everyone else, so if they want to be at the games, there’s no problem.
You strike us as such an energetic person – how do you, of all people, keep yourself occupied between training and games, especially at tournaments? I’m not sure about what will happen this time, but in previous tournaments there’s always been a games room with a load of things to keep us occupied. It can be boring before the tournament starts, in all honesty, but once it’s underway, there are games every day for us to watch. I’m not a big sleeper in the day, so I’m probably knocking round the hotel trying to find someone to play FIFA with or talk to.
Crouchy says he’ll bring back the Robot if he scores in the World Cup final. Ever wondered how you might react? I’ve not really thought about it. If we won it, I’d be looking forward to a holiday with the family straight after, just celebrating privately.
How about another England tattoo? No, I don’t think so.
Maybe call your second child Fabio, then? I don’t think so! Not that I’d get much choice...
Capello has deliberately played you with Heskey, Crouch and Defoe, should each need arise. How do you have to adapt your game depending on who your partner is? They’re all different players who offer different things to the team. Jermain’s always in the box, looking for that chance to create space and get a shot off. Emile holds the ball up well and brings other players into the game, so I can play off him, and Crouchy’s scored a lot of goals and is a real handful to mark. They all bring different qualities to the side.
Do you think it could work for England, with you playing in the role you sometimes play for Man United with just you up and two wide men supporting you? I can’t see why not. We’ve got good wingers with a lot of pace and very experienced central midfield players, but you can’t change tactics for one player, and the manager has an idea of how he wants to play.
Capello says England are aiming for at least a a place in the semi-finals. How do you see England’s standing? Spain and Brazil are the favourites but behind them both there’s a host of teams who can win it, including ourselves, but also Italy, Germany, Argentina and Holland. With a bit of luck on their side, any one of those teams could win it.
Are personal goals a big motivation for you? If so, which accolade would you most like: European/World Player of the Year, World Cup golden boot or become England’s all-time record goalscorer? It’s about the team – you win with the team, you lose with the team, and I’ve always said I don’t go out looking for personal awards. If they happen, then I’m really happy but what I look for are medals with my team. If I had to choose one? Probably becoming England’s record goalscorer. There have been some great players who have played for England and written themselves into the country’s history for scoring goals, so that’d be the one.
Interview: June 2010.