The Manchester City and Belgium centre back chats with Wim van Walle about his domestic ambitions for the season ahead, his lust for winning trophies and his hopes and aspirations for Euro 2016...
Looking at the season ahead, what are your ambitions with Manchester City? You’ve won the Premier League twice. Champions League next?
It is an obsession for everybody to win prizes. But I don’t really obsess with the Champions League more than other competitions. My mindset is that I want to win every game. I really mean that. I wouldn’t want to give anything up. If you offer me the certainty of one trophy and ask me to give up on all the others, I’m going to say no. I want to try to win them all.
Not even the World Cup?
No. It’s a mind set. I was born that way. It’s the way I want to live my career. I want to go for every game.
You must have felt some disappointment after the World Cup, though?
That’s all part of football. There’s only one team who can win a World Cup, who leave the tournament thinking: “this was top.” Looking back on the Argentina game, it was obvious that we were at least as good as them, give or take a few details. But those are all things we can work on. We were a lot less experienced than them, after all. There will be other chances and if we’re clever, we’ll learn from the mistakes we’ve made and be a better team.
What did you make of some of the reactions from the press in Belgium, who said “We don’t have a Van Persie, we don’t have this or that player”? Is that something you can agree with?
If I look at the lads up front in the Belgium team… I believe Romelu [Lukaku] was one of the youngest players ever to reach 20 Premier League goals. So it’s all a question of time. At 28, I’m not the same player I was when I was 20. It is completely unrealistic to expect them to be those players. [Robin] Van Persie and [Arjen] Robben are both about 30: that’s not a real comparison. If our lads get 10 years to work hard and try to reach that level, I’d love to see where they end up. Youth is something you have to know how to deal with. So yes, maybe we did lack a bit of experience, but the group spirit made us a very dangerous team.
Looking forward to Euro 2016, some people have mentioned the semi-finals …
Look, the problem for me is that a semi-final is still semi-realistic. So I am going to be unrealistic and say I want to win it. And I will try to remain unrealistic. Before the World Cup, I wanted to win it. Now, ahead of the Euros, I want to win. I’m not saying we have to win it, but I want to. And we’ll see. If other teams prove they’re stronger than us, I can live with that. But I’m not going to say today that we have a certain limit, because I feel we have time to work and get better. I don’t think we’re the best team in Europe, but I do think we have time to get there.
The fact that there’s two years to go is in Belgium’s favour. Do you think it will be a disadvantage for some other countries, where players now in their early thirties will also be two years older?
No, on the contrary. Look at Italy. They won the World Cup in 2006 with a team of players who were near the end of their careers. Experience is a formidable weapon in football, you cannot underestimate it. For me, age may be a disadvantage when I’m 36. But for Belgium, up until the World Cup in Russia in 2018, we won’t have too many problems with age. After that, some players may leave. But this generation has such depth that others will be able to step in. I think this generation, minus five or six players, can easily go on for 10 more years.
The atmosphere in the Belgian team is brilliant, as you mentioned. Could that be one of the reasons that many people around the world seem to have embraced Belgium as their ‘second team’?
I think it is. And I think it is one of the things that will make us strong in the future. We must never forget how far we’ve got and how we got there. We still have a lot of margin. But it’s not something you can take for granted: we will have to work to maintain that atmosphere and stay focused. That way I think we can be a real force in the future.
You’ve won quite a few trophies. Where do you still find motivation?
That’s easy. Football is my passion. I don’t do this just because it earns me good wages. I do it because I love it. As a boy, I was just as passionate as I am now and I think maybe that is part of why I have made it this far. And that will never change. I know there is a limit, timewise. I can’t play football forever. So if you let one year slip, you can never get it back. That is what drives me. Maybe I can go on playing at this level for another six or seven years and I want to get as much out of that time as I can.
And what happens if you don’t get what you want? How do you handle disappointment? Do you just walk away from it?
I think I handle losing pretty well. I hate it, but I think I deal with it well mentally. But I can tell you if we hadn’t won the Premier League last season, it would have been the toughest moment in my career. That’s the beautiful thing about football, that it turned out to be the most amazing memory. And that really sums up why I play football and why I still train so hard to make it a success.
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