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Vaughan: Ronaldo is a freak

Michael Vaughan, England cricket captain

He may be one of England's most successful cricket captains of recent years, but there is no hiding Michael Vaughan's bubbling passion for football. The Sheffield Wednesday-supporting batsman led England to a famous victory over Australia to win the coveted Ashes trophy in 2005 - the first time they had done in 18 years - and now commentates on cricket, but he always has a keen eye on football.

Vaughan took time out to discuss his second love with, looking at growing up with football, FIFA World Cup™ memories and his expectations for England at Brazil 2014. Did you play much football when you were younger, or was cricket always your passion? Michael Vaughan: I played loads. I was playing for local teams and I was with Wednesday for a bit too. I went on a week trial when I was about 13 but I didn't last until the end of it, so I realised then that it was maybe time to take cricket a bit more seriously. I still love football though.

Given the choice between the two, would you have still chosen cricket?
Yeah, I think it was always going to be cricket. I was always a little bit better, I always had a better chance at getting to the top with cricket.

Do remember how you first started supporting Sheffield Wednesday?
We moved to Sheffield through my dad's work, and the chairman of his business was also chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, so we went down all the time, going to every game. We had season tickets, so I just fell in love with them seeing them week in, week out. I'd go down to the training ground to see them too, so I was always around Wednesday. My first game was against Newcastle United – and I think Kevin Keegan played – which we won 4-2. It was a top-of-the-table Division One clash at the time.

He's a freak, he scores a hat-trick every week! And he does it with so much hair gel in!

Are there any memories that really stick out for you over your time supporting Wednesday?
It's been a ridiculous rollercoaster of where we were, to where we got to, to where we are now. There's never a dull moment with Wednesday. In the early 1990s, beating Manchester United in the League Cup final is something I'll always remember, the FA Cup semi-final (against local rivals Sheffield United) at Wembley which we won, and the 1993 final against Arsenal which followed. Getting into Europe, going on a European tour, so many things.

How would you describe the rivalry with Sheffield United over the years?
It's competitive at times, but it's rather sad at the minute with where both clubs are (in the second and third tiers of English football). At school it was more of a worry that you might lose the derby, as you would have to go to school and face your friends. Even though Wednesday were bigger and better for such a long period, every time we played them in a derby we seemed to lose. The city thrives on the buzz of the football. At the moment Sheffield is pretty flat and I always say it is because of the football. When the football teams are doing well and we have a Premier League side, the city feels hyper.

Do you remember when you first began to take notice of the World Cup?
It was in 1982 when [Bryan] Robson scored after about five seconds for England against Spain. Then there was the 1986, where they wore a kit with holes in it because it was going to be so hot, [Gary] Lineker scoring a hat-trick and the [Diego] Maradona incident. I remember the World Cups with fond memories, such as 1990 with Lineker, [Paul] Gascoigne, and my good friend Chris Waddle. You look back now and think where England have got to, we could have realistically won that 1990 World Cup. I thought we were the better team against Germany in the semi-final, losing on penalties, and you really feel England were very close to winning a World Cup, but 23 years later we seem a very long way off. Every other team seems to have got better, whereas we haven't really improved. I think we took it for granted. I don't think we realised how well [then-manager] Bobby Robson had done in 1990. We'd rip your hand off to do the same in Brazil next year.

How do you feel England have faired under Roy Hodgson?
I've been impressed with him. The amount of pressure they were under in those last two qualifying matches, they came through with flying colours. In England I think we are a country who like to see our sports-people have a really good go - that's our mentality, to attack . As long as you have your areas covered and are not leaving yourself too exposed, we're the kind of team in all sports that the nation and fans get vibrancy from by seeing us really go at it. I think we all play our best sport when we are trying to force and error out of the opposition through positivity, rather than waiting for one. I think that's the better way to play sport. It always makes me laugh when I hear people say Spain play this waiting game, passing the ball around. I think they play the hardest pressing game in the world, it's fast, it's vibrant, their forwards are forcing the defenders to make errors and then the midfielders push up. Everything is played on the front foot. However you play you have to have that winning mentality.

Are Spain your tip for the World Cup?
I'd say one of the South American sides - you have to fancy Brazil or Argentina near their own back yard. One of the African teams could do well, as I definitely think the heat is going to play a part. You can't overlook Spain when playing such an attractive brand of football, but I think Brazil on home soil will be strong favourites. The expectation of a nation can sometimes be a negative, but I'd say it is more of a positive and you'd think the players would get something extra out of it as a result.

How do you feel England's chances are?
You have to start somewhere. They've started selecting a few young players, they've identified a brand of football, I think they're looking at next year as a learning curve as I don't feel anyone is expecting them to win it. Then you hope in the next tournament at the EURO in 2016 something better will happen. [FA Chairman] Greg Dyke's golden vision is to win a major tournament by 2022, which I think is right to do. English cricket set the target to be the number one team in the world and everyone laughed, but they ended up achieving that for a short period. You have to have a vision. We won the Ashes in 2005 by taking on a great Australian team with real aggression and positivity. There is no way you beat great teams by sitting back, it's just impossible. At the minute there are better football teams than England, we have to admit that. So they have to work out ways of causing them problems.

When you look at the current squad what are you thinking?
Well, for me the most exciting part of English football are the likes of Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck, then Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Kyle Walker. You're starting to see a new team there. Ravel Morrison, although he has had some difficulties, looks a player that could fit into the Spanish side, he has that sort of touch and movement. The best players in the world make the game they're playing look very easy, even though it's not, and I think he can do that. There's no point playing just youngsters though, you need that stable of senior players around them. I think Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, [coach] Gary Neville, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney who have been there and done it need to be around the camp because they need to guide the next generation. They may not have won much internationally, but they've been there and had the experience.

Who do you think should claim the FIFA Ballon d'Or?
Cristiano Ronaldo has got to get it, hasn't he? He's a freak, he scores a hat-trick every week! And he does it with so much hair gel in! Him and [Lionel] Messi are just geniuses. They're brilliant footballers, but I just think Ronaldo is magnificent. Either foot, left or right wing, down the middle, scores with his head, from outside the box, takes penalties. He and Messi and wonderful, but I'll go for Ronaldo this year

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