Chris Powell is the definition of the consummate professional and a proud Englishman to boot (not for nothing is one of his middle names George). The 40 year-old left back has played 655 times with five of those appearances coming for England at the turn of the previous decade. He’s still technically registered as a player despite being first team development coach at Leicester as well as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association since 2005. Busy guy.
Without wishing to harp on about Powell’s age, his debut under Sven-Goran Erikkson in 2001, at 31 years young, meant he was the oldest England debutant since Syd Owen back in 1954. Powell is one of England’s ambassadors for their 2018 World Cup bid and is also an ambassador for 1Goal, the charity hoping to bring education to the 72 million children sadly going without. On his first day in South Africa, I caught up with Powell, who has been described by one of his former fans at Southend as “one of the nicest men in football, a true gent.” Not only can I confirm this to be the case but Powell makes a compelling case for why fans of England and the U.S. should remain confident about their teams and the importance of holding a World Cup on African soil.
What are you doing in South Africa?
I’m one of the ambassadors for the 1Goal Education For All project and I’ve been invited to speak to many people over here. We’re trying to put forward our message that there are over 70 million children without education in the world and we feel that an event such as this, which is watched by the world, is perfect for us to push our message and hope that all the governments take heed and give these children an education.
I’m off to Cape Town Friday to meet some children and do some coaching in the townships. There’s also a global summit on the 7th July which has been organized by the president of South Africa and we’re hoping that some major players and leaders will be there. Our message will be at the forefront of that summit: over half of those 70 million children are in Africa so it’s poignant to be here in South Africa.
What’s been the impact of this first World Cup held on African soil?
It’s a defining moment in the history of football for the World Cup to be here in Africa. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m really happy that it’s here and I feel the tournament will get better. The first round games are always a bit nervy and cautious but I think it will now explode and we’ll see some more goals and great games. I’m really pleased there will be a legacy in a country where so much has happened; there’s no denying what’s happened here in years gone by and this is the start of regenerating the country. Of course, it will take time and it will be a generation or two before we see the real effects but you have to start somewhere.
Tell me about the letdown by Bafana Bafana Wednesday night. It’s hard to see how South Africa can make it out of the group?
Yes, that’s true but they’ve brought the nation together. The people are watching their favorite team, Bafana Bafana, and you just hope that they can qualify for the next round because it would keep everyone bubbling. I’ve just arrived and there is a little bit of a lull here because of what happened against Uruguay but I’m sure they’ll be up once they play against France and hopefully they’ll get a win as it would be great for the nation and World Cup in general as we know what it means to everyone. Not just South Africa but we hope it makes an impact across Africa as we want all the African nations to do well. And maybe in the future the World Cup will come back to another African country.
Which teams have impressed you the most so far?
I think Germany have been impressive and Brazil are starting to warm up. I think England have made a slow start and it’s a key game for them Friday. But I’m surprised Spain lost though Argentina also look good and with Lionel Messi the key man of the tournament, they will be in the last four for sure.
Let’s look ahead to Friday’s games: how do you think England and the U.S. will do against Algeria and Slovenia?
I actually think now that after watching the U.S. against England, I see them both as the two qualifiers from the group. I think the U.S. have been underestimated somewhat and have players who play not only in England but in Germany and Holland and they really, really impressed me. I see no reason why they won’t qualify. They’ve got a good coach in Bob Bradley and a game plan they adhere to. It’s good for soccer over there in America for them to do well. As for England, watching the other two teams, Algeria and Slovenia look very poor, so England and the U.S. should beat them both and progress to the last 16.
You’ve played under a foreign coach for England: do you think their players respond well to a non-British manager?
Absolutely. I think Fabio Capello has a fine pedigree as a manager and it’s more about circumstances. There’s plenty of very good British managers but, at present with the England job, the right candidate has been a foreign manager. We had an Englishman in Steve McClaren before and it didn’t work out but even he’s re-energized his career in Holland and is now moving onto Germany. We had Sven before that but there were good British managers before him and there will be good ones in the future. The FA feel Fabio is the right man. He sailed through qualifying and we’re now here at the World Cup and it’s where we wanted to be. It’s down to him, the staff and the players to produce the performances we all want to see.
I must ask you about the two big talking points thus far: the vuvuzelas and the ball. Your views on both please!
(Laughs) Well, the vuvuzelas: I’ve just arrived and I haven’t heard one yet! I’m led to believe that’s because South Africa lost so I think everyone’s a little bit in mourning. The vuvuzelas are part of South African football and we should embrace that because if you go to other countries, like England, the fans like to chant. So it’s like saying “you can’t chant anymore because we don’t do that in our country.” It’s part of this World Cup and it should stay there. But I don’t think they should be in restaurants!
As for the ball, obviously everyone is talking about it but Adidas has tried and tested it and they’ve been using it in the Bundesliga. Maybe there are some differences but everyone should have been planning ahead and playing with it for many months before coming over here. I know a number of countries have been using it and if you do that, you get used to it. It is a bone of contention with everyone but they have to get on with it and put in a performance. I don’t think anyone complains when they win! It’s when you lose that you look for an excuse why you didn’t perform.
Finally, I need a Powell prediction: who will win the World Cup?
Well, it was Spain until they lost on Wednesday! I’ll say Brazil but that’s begrudging because I’d like to say England so put England in brackets!