Were there aspects of your professional football career that prepared you for your life as an actor?
I’ve always wanted to act. On the pitch, it’s a kind of acting. First you learn to walk, then you find your spontaneity.
You were very theatrical on the field in so many ways. Is it something oh so French?
Was it theater? Yes. Old Trafford is the Theater of Dream. Sometimes people ask me different questions about players and acting. I started to think about it and there is a lot and found a lot of similarities. It’s not just a game, you play on the set, the pitch. I’ve always wanted to play and see beautiful football, but winning was always very important.
Who are your favorite directors?
[Jean-Luc] Godard is one. Fabulous. Today, Jérôme Bonnell, who is not very well known, even in France. He’s very good. His films are very special. I’ve never worked with him, but admire his films.
You were the star, the alter ego in the recent film “Looking for Eric.” It looked like a perfect role for you.
I wanted to do the movie and [director] Ken Loach was on our list. I met with him and he was very happy with the possibility to work on the same story. If you ask 100 directors you will get 100 different films. But our ideas were very close with Ken Loach. I was very happy with the film. I got to meet all these people and, of course, he was a wonderful director. It was most important to work with great people. There was humility and humanity.
What do you think the biggest change in the game has been since you last played for Manchester United?
Many things have changed, that’s expected. I think that TV is involved more and more. With the sponsors, there’s more and more money. The players are in the middle, and they take their part.
I think there is talk of this every time. In my time, people said players earned too much money. But me, when I was a child, I just dreamed of playing, being the best player and playing for the best team. I became very rich through football. I’ve got my memories of great moments with great clubs.
What were some of your greatest moments in the game?
They were all with United. With United, I played my best level, when I was between 26 and 30. I spent my best years at Manchester United with some of the world’s greatest players. [Alex] Ferguson is one of the best managers of all time. I was very lucky. And it was the type of game that United played, yes, winning, but it was something I enjoyed.
For me, the greatest moment was when we won the double [the Premier League and F.A. Cup titles in 1995-96] with a new generation of young players
You were among the first wave of players from outside Britain to star in the Premier League. Was it a challenge?
Well, for example, when I first went to England I spent a week on trial with Sheffield Wednesday. I thought I was there to sign a contract, but after a week on trial with Wednesday they asked me to stay for one more week. I mean, I had already played for France, how can you imagine playing for France and having to stay on trial with Wednesday? In this time, no one knows French players and no one cared. I don’t think that people realize how it was in that time for a foreigner in England.
English football at the time thought it didn’t need foreign players. It was a kind of arrogance. The worst thing is to one day realize that maybe you need foreign players to succeed. Now I think there are too many, it’s the opposite. Too many foreign players in the clubs, and I think the clubs should work for the national team. With me and the Cosmos, we work hard with the academies working for the club and for the national team.
I’ve seen some stories that said you are staying away from Manchester United until the Glazers are no longer the owners. Is that true?
All I will say is that I think Ferugson will stay as the manager, after that, there will be more problems. Today, he is like Gandhi on the game side.
Are there any entertainers in the game today who have your attention?
I don’t want to sound like an old man. In every generation, you have players you think are the best players with a strong personality. If you have that strong personality you are an entertainer, but now, with different attitudes. But somebody quiet can be charismatic and can be an entertainer, like [Lionel] Messi.
Which players and which teams do you like to watch now?
I prefer to say Barcelona and Manchester United. As teams, they are entertaining.
With Manchester, I prefer to say, to think, to realize that Ferguson is a kind of genius. He had so many different generations of players now. He’s 70 and works with players 18 years old but adapts himself to all generations. This one is especially different. With [Dimitar] Berbatov, he worked hard and waited because he knew he had a great player.
Ferguson takes strong personalities and works with them psychologically. It is very important. It worked for me, 100 percent. It was for the team. I accepted everything because he gave me freedom on the pitch. He gave me the No. 7 shirt and it became important to me though I might not have realized its importance in the beginning. I never felt the pressure. He had a kind of confidence in me to give me the No. 7. It was an honor.
Other than playing in the Beach Soccer World Cup, you have basically been out of the game for the last 14, 15 years. How did you get interested in joining this Cosmos project?
Around Christmastime, the club called my brother, who works with me, and explained they wanted me to be part of their project. I knew the story of the club. It is very important for me. I didn’t want to go if the idea for the club is different from what it was. I liked the project. I have a strong image of this club, that it was something special in football that was a mixture of everything.
I like this idea of player development here and I think there are many, many players now in the U.S. I’m sure that before 20 years the U.S. will win the World Cup because players like Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé came here. Young players started to look after them and became interested in the sport and started to play soccer. I don’t think they get enough credit for the great job for development of the sport they did here. I think the Cosmos helped people realize that football could be an art form.
You truly believe the U.S. will win the World Cup within 20 years?
Yes. I am sure. The U.S. wins the World Cup and the Cosmos will do a great job in the academies and give the national team its best players. We already have good players in the academy, I’ve seen kids 8, 9 years old that are great. There are 18 million kids playing soccer in the U.S.
The U.S. played very, very well in the World Cup in South Africa. They are not ready to win a World Cup now, but I think they have improved every time. Now they are quicker and better skilled than in previous years. And yes, I believe they will win the World Cup.
You are among a number of players who, like George Best, never got to represent their country in the World Cup. Is that a source of disappointment for you?
I achieved a lot of things in my career and I cannot think about the disappointments. I prefer to think about the good things and I had a lot. When I started to play, I wanted to win everything, but then you realize you cannot. What is most important is to try and win and play your best game every time. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you don’t give 100 percent. Sometimes you’re lucky. Sometimes not. Luck is important.
What does this job with the Cosmos mean to you?
It’s about creating something. I have my own vision of the game and will try to bring it here and win. Ajax in the ’70s created something. [Johan] Cryuff at Barcelona created something, a new revolution. The Cosmos can create something, too, that’s never been seen. Every 20, 30 years there is a new movement. You have to look to history and take inspiration from things and use them to create your own future. I came here with this kind of idea.
It is about the style of coaching and young players. We want to be successful and to do that you need to be physical, technical and the best mentally. To have tactics that nobody can understand. It took so many years for people to understand Cruyff at Barcelona because the first season he got there he didn’t use an attacking player up front. There were people on the wings up front and up until then he was the only one in history to do that.
He played to his style and made the other teams adapt. It means you control the game.
You are coming here with those ideas in mind, but how much do you know about M.L.S. and the way it works? And does any lack of knowledge worry you? Of course, this is all assuming that the Cosmos end up with a team in the league.
Yes, I don’t know M.L.S. very well, but I have Cobi [Jones] with the Cosmos and he’s a resource. I want to learn more about the league and will work very hard, watching games, tapes. And I think I will know very well and quickly. I realize I need to learn things.
I think he was surprised by the player I was and became because no one knew what to expect from me. It’s better to surprise. Otherwise it becomes boring.