Sir Bobby Charlton has spoken of his affinity to Israel ahead of the start of the Maccabiah Games.
Speaking to me at the British Council’s Football for Peace project in Netanya, the World Cup winner coached a group of Israel and Arab youngsters at the Wingate Institute before presenting the boys and girls with Manchester United training tops.
Sir Bobby said: “Whenever I get the opportunity to come to Israel I know I’ll be well received and will meet people who probably know more about the game than me.”
Speaking about the British Council’s project, he said: “I’m not surprised that it’s such a success as football is so popular across the world. When talking about young people, it does not matter what colour, religion or size they are. Everyone should be given the chance to play.
“It’s just fantastic to see so many Arab kids mixing with Jewish children. It’s the people’s game whether they are involved in coaching, administration, playing or managing. It blows my mind every time I travel.
“The project isn’t easy to organise and I think that when every player retires they should start working in similar projects like I have to ensure our sport has a healthy future.”
Sir Bobby, 71, then took time out to answer questions at a press conference. He will lead the Team GB delegation into the Maccabiah opening ceremony in Ramat Gan on Monday night.
“I’m pleased that the British Council’s project coincides with the Maccabiah Games. I bumped into many British athletes on the plane and, like me, they are looking forward to it.”
One journalist asked about Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid. Sir Bobby, an ambassador of Manchester United, replied: “Cristiano will go down as one of the great players to play for United. He was not born in England, but in Portugal and it was dream to play for Real Madrid since he was a boy. When I was young I wanted to play for United.
“We were pleased with his service at United. He’s a great player and went to Madrid with our blessing. He saw out his contract and our manager Alex Ferguson has never been afraid to make a decision to the benefit of Manchester United. It’s sad but the club will move on.
However, he was less sure about Real Madrid’s free-spending ways in the transfer market. “I don’t know how they run their business. Like everyone else I’ve been staggered by the fees that a football club is prepared to pay for two players within a few days.
“To me, it doesn’t matter how much they spend as it doesn’t guarantee success. United have always been fairly frugal in the transfer market and try to do our homework on new players.”
Asked about the addition of Manchester United, Sir Bobby predicted: “He will be a bigger symbol at United than for Liverpool if our decision to sign him proves the right one. I saw him play for Liverpool youth against United youth a few years ago. We lost 3-2 and Owen scored all three. I asked our coaching team why he we didn’t sign him.
“If he can stay free of injury, at 29 his best years could be ahead of him. We have to be careful with him and only time will tell if we’ve made a good decision.”
Asked about England’s chances in next year’s World Cup finals in South African, he said: “If we are lucky with injuries, we have a chance to win it.”
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