Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is gearing up for a busy summer and is hoping he can inspire Belgium to their first World Cup success.
Just before jetting off to meet up with his international team-mates, United’s no.27 spoke exclusively to MUTVabout his previous World Cup experiences, Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ and facing England in the group stages…
What did you think of the qualification campaign for the World Cup?
“I think it was good. We travelled a lot and played against some good teams. We also had some friendly games. It was a good campaign, we finished first. We have a good team so now we just have to play a few games and be ready for the World Cup.”
You came on as a substitute and scored against Algeria at the 2014 World Cup. Do you have fond memories of that tournament?
“Of course. I did [play] once in Brazil so I know all about the World Cup. It’s a big competition. We can show what we can do. I have played a lot for the national team so I know the team and the players very well. I know it’s work so, for me to start or not, the most important thing is to win the games, to go as far as we can, take it game by game and see what happens.”
Will the 2014 edition help to build experience of a major tournament?
“Yes, for sure. We played at the World Cup and the Euros [in 2016], so now the team is much stronger than four years ago. More experienced players playing in a good team win trophies, so we have more experience. We are a good team and we just need to improve a few things – we have some time to do that, so let’s improve and see what we can do at the World Cup.”
There’s a current ‘golden generation’ of talented players for Belgium – what’s behind that, do you think?
“I think players go to foreign countries to play. They go younger, they have the personality to go to the other countries to show themselves and I think when you go there, you learn more and you play with big teams against big players, so you learn more quickly.”
You have a new manager since Euro 2016. What does Roberto Martinez do differently to Marc Wilmots?
“I think he has a lot of experience and has managed a couple of teams in the Premier League. He is Spanish so he has the mentality to have the ball and that is different to Marc Wilmots. He likes to have the ball and play three at the back, wingers are further forward and so, yes, he’s different and at the moment we are doing well in this system.”
Is your role in the national team different compared with your role at United?
“In the last few games for the national team, I played in defensive midfield. I can play in a few roles and the manager decides, so we will see.”
United fans will be familiar with Romelu Lukaku – it must be a big plus for the national team to have him?
“For sure. When he is fit and he’s in a good dynamic, it is difficult to stop him because he scores goals, he’s powerful and he’s dangerous in the box. He’s a good guy for us.”
Fans of the Premier League will know a lot of the players, like Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Chelsea’s Eden Hazard. Are there any newer members of the squad that are worth looking out for?
“I think everybody! We have a lot of players playing in different countries for different big teams, so they can be dangerous. The stars are Hazard and De Bruyne but the rest are good players and can do something special.”
You are playing England, of course, in the group stage – it’s a match that everyone must be excited about?
“Yes but, before that, we have two very important games, like England have. It is the third game, so I hope that the job [qualifying for the last 16] will be done before the England game. But I hope that it will be a good game, it will be a good test for us because it [England] is a good, young and energetic team. It will be good for us as well, the players playing for England, to play against them.”
As numerous players who play in England will be involved, are you expecting it to be similar to a Premier League match?
“Yes, it will be intense, it will be hard work and full of quality. I look forward to it.”
What kind of style do you expect from the English national team?
“They can play because they have good, technical players. They are physical but they are also very technical so they can play good football.”