Creative Soccer Culture

In Conversation: Rio Ferdinand Talks Champions League

We caught up with Rio Ferdinand on the set for the #ChampionTheMatch film he was shooting for Heineken where he plays the role as 'The Substitute'. Ever interviewed a Champions League winning captain wearing a full prosthetic mask? It was slightly unsettling.

We went behind the scenes on the shoot to capture the making of the video and to talk to Rio about his experiences of playing in the Champions League, who he's backing to lift the trophy this season and why English teams have struggled in recent years amongst Europe's elite. 

Rio, nice mask. You've played in the Champions League. What makes it different to any over competition?

"The best players in the world are playing in the Champions League, that’s what makes it so special. The fact that all the best players play in the Champions League make it the highest standard of competition in the world, more so than the World Cup. Champions League nights are special, they feel different to normal games, when you’re lined up on the pitch and they play the music under lights, it tells you exactly where you are."

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You won it with United. How does that rank amongst your career achievements?

"That was my most enjoyable moment, certainly the most satisfying of my career. The Champions League was always the holy grail to me, so to be able to go up there and lift it as captain was phenomenal. I didn’t think it was a big of a moment at the time because you’re so fixed on winning the game and it didn’t really dawn on me until I saw Bobby Charlton at the bottom of the stairs and he told me about what it meant to lift it when he was captain."

"You only really reflect on it when you stop playing. I can sit here now and think about how big of an achievement these things actually are. You don’t think like that when you’re playing because the next game or competition starts so quickly afterwards and you have to start preparing straight away."

How many times have you watched that 2008 UCL Final victory? 

"I've never watched it back. I didn’t like to dwell on the past when I was a player and I haven’t had time to since I’ve finished playing. I’m busy working…. or wearing masks."

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The beauty of playing in Europe is visiting new place. Do you have any favourites?

"When you travel in the Champions League you don’t actually get to see any of the city which is a shame really. All you see is the airport, hotel, training, stadium and then airport again, so it’s more about favourite stadiums than cities. Stadium wise, my favourite two to play in were the Allianz Arena and the San Siro."

Fans spend a lot of time and money travelling to follow their team in Europe. Are players aware of that?

"A lot of my mates travel to Europe to watch the Champions League and I know of the joy and camaraderie they have of following their team – it’s a lifestyle for them. My mates grew up doing that, whether they were supporting Millwall, Liverpool or United, win, lose or draw, that was their life and you appreciate playing more when you meet people like that, you know a lot of people have put in a lot of time and money to support you and the very minimum you can do to repay that is give your all, every game."

How have you found the transition from player to pundit? Do you look at the game differently?

"Nah, I look at it the same. I’m just doing what I’d be doing in the pub or in my front room with my mates but in a studio on TV. It’s a natural thing that I love talking about, anyone who knows me will tell you I love debating about football and having the platform at BT Sport to do that is a beautiful thing. It’s a great team to be a part of and I’m really enjoying it."

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Stick your neck out then. Who's going to win the Champions League this season?

"Barca, I don’t think you can look anywhere else."

Any of the English clubs got a chance? 

*Uncomfortable long stare.*

When you played in the UCL, English clubs were always reaching the semi-final at least. What's happened?

"The other teams have just gone beyond us. I think they’re more organised and don’t play off the cuff like English teams do. There’s a strategy behind these big European teams and a structure. One of the biggest things about the best teams at the moment, who are Bayern Munich and Barcelona, other than the actual ability that they have in their squads is that they are absolute teams, they play as teams, they try and win the ball back as a team, they hunt together and there’s a strategy and an intensity when they’re doing that, that our English teams at the moment can’t match."

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How have you enjoyed getting involved in the Heineken #ChampionTheMatch campaign today?

"Yeah, it’s been great. It’s a new experience for me but I’ve been in safe hands, these guys worked with Freddy Kruger, man. I’m on a long list here! I’ve seen films where they use prosthetics and they always look incredible, I’ve always wondered how they did it, so to experience it first hand has been really fun."

Tempted to keep it? Might come in handy...

"Yeah, it would be nice to stick it on and just walk around and chill. I'd like to be a big fat middle aged white man and just walk around the city centre."

If you could wear the mask of an ex-teammate, who would it be?

"Scholesy. He just goes home doesn’t he? Easy life!"

So, is this the beginning of an acting career?

"I’ll let you decide..."

In ‘Behind The Mask’ we see in detail how Rio was transformed into ‘The Substitute’. The process began with cyber scanning that created a digital model of Rio’s face. This information was then sent to US make-up expert Robert Kurtzman (Bad Boys II, Hulk, Vanilla Sky, From Dusk Til Dawn) who went about creating the prosthetics that would turn Rio into the football fan. Rio spent over five hours with Robert and his team, having the prosthetics painstakingly applied to re-shape his facial features to match those of the fan.

To help make supporters’ match night more legendary, Rio Ferdinand will be conducting a live Twitter Q&A via @Heineken during the Manchester City v Dynamo Kiev match on the 15th March at 19:45 – 22:00.  Heineken will also be rewarding fans who #ChampionTheMatch with tickets to UEFA Champions League matches throughout the remainder of the tournament.


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