Vujadin Savić (footballer, Serbia): I think football is a great opportunity for different cultures to mix, to make friendships and to see the best in people. I don’t think you should take everything from one culture, but you have to take the positive things; respect them. For example, I’ve been at a lot of clubs and I’ve played with players from Africa and they were all my friends; there’s just no place for racism. Football can make people get to know each other and realise that everyone is equal.
Maksim Medvedev (footballer, Azerbaijan): Love football. Make football your life. Football is an interesting and positive game. Not everybody becomes a footballer. My advice to the young generation is to always keep working to improve. Never stop. There’s a possibility that you’ll face challenges during your career but that’s OK. Never give up and keep going because it might not happen today, but it will happen tomorrow.
Gerard Piqué (footballer, Spain): It was very emotional. It had a very special meaning, of course, because of everything that Abidal had gone through, but also all of his teammates. ‘Puyi’ [Carles Puyol] did something that honours him as the captain he was, because he gave him the chance to lift that trophy and he gave him the armband. From a sporting point of view, it was one of the best games I recall as an FC Barcelona player. And that gesture was the cherry on the cake on a historic day at Wembley, where else?
Presnel Kimpembe (footballer, France): We know it’s not easy to deal with discrimination in this world and we know that we can get our message across through football in terms of respect and loyalty. We try to send that message out and we know that football is the number one sport in the world. Although it isn’t easy, if everyone puts in the effort, we can improve that area.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær (manager, Norway): The game of football always brings people together. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, when you go on holiday you meet people from different countries. My kids now, for example, they don’t have to communicate with language, it’s just body language. You just turn up on the pitch and become friends, and that’s what football is about, to bring everyone together, because there are enough people trying to make divisions between race and language and countries. Football is the best way of coming together.
Robbie Keane (coach, Ireland): Hi, I’m Robbie Keane. The great thing about football is that it’s for everybody. I played amputee football myself a couple of years ago with Damien Duff so I know how hard it is. But the great thing about it, is that it’s for everybody. All I want to say is that I want to give you my support and wish you the very best of luck for the future.
Gurban Gurbanov (manager, Azerbaijan): You definitely have to always work harder than your opponents in order to succeed. If you want to be better than them, you certainly have to think and work harder than them. You mustn’t be afraid of the difficulties and failures you may encounter along the way, because when you’re not scared to fail, you’re always chasing success. And you’ll maintain the principles of the sports you love.
Houssem Aouar (footballer, France): I think we have the best women’s team in the world. They are used to major tournaments, and have been dominating the French league, and the Champions League in recent years as well. We are really proud of them and we hope they will keep doing so well. When you see that our women’s team is so successful, you realise that the level of women’s football as a whole is also growing. That’s good for them. They have to keep going that way to remain a top team.
Léo Jabá (footballer, Brazil): I already experienced many difficult times when in Russia. I left Brazil [to join Akhmat Grozny] when I was only 18. I left Corinthians, which has an extraordinary infrastructure, to go to a club that doesn’t have the same set-up. It was a different city, it was very difficult. During the first six months, I used to call my mum and be in tears, due to homesickness. That was the greatest difficulty for me but, as for the culture, you can adapt to anywhere. I learned how to adjust to the cold, to the Muslim culture. Here [in Greece] it feels like Brazil, it feels like home. It’s a similar climate, though I don’t know about now, since the cold weather is coming. When I arrived, I was very well received. It feels like I’ve been here for years now.
Marek Hamsik (footballer, Slovakia): Football is my profession but also my passion. I love to play with my friends as well, both in Italy and Slovakia. I like being a goalkeeper [laughs]. I love it and I’m sure I will not stop after my career end, because as I said, football is, first and foremost, my passion.
Markku Kanerva (manager, Finland): Football plays a big role in terms of equity, equality and promoting such important values. Football is very important socially in many countries. We talk about the full football family and that includes both grassroots and professional football. In order to prevent discrimination, everyone must be involved, from the very bottom, those on grassroots side and those on the professional side. We must have the common goal and desire of preventing discrimination and injustice.
Maycon (footballer, Brazil): I think that in Brazil, many people don’t choose the path of crime because they have football and dream of becoming footballers, with football providing a much calmer and better life than resorting to crime. I think football offers an exit path away from many of the difficulties that we live with in our country and that aren’t good. We can dream big thanks to football.
Marco Verratti (footballer, Italy): It’s been an incredible life experience for me because when I came here aged 19, I found myself faced with a different language, different customs and a different culture. I got to meet people who had a lot more experience behind them than me and made things much easier for me by talking me through things. These things change you so much and make you grow as a man. I became a father after two years of being here, so it’s all happened very fast. In football, you often don’t get a chance to stop and think about what’s happening. Things happen so fast that it’s often difficult to take stock and think. When I think about it, I know that I’ve been incredibly lucky, and I’d make that same choice one thousand times over.
Aron Winter (coach, Netherlands): I think that discrimination needs to disappear. It shouldn’t be there. We are all the same and everyone needs to be appreciated and respected no matter what he or she looks like, or sexual orientation. Regardless of level or rank, I showed it with my feet, I let my feet to do the talking.
Kristoffer Zachariassen (footballer, Norway): Football has meant a lot to me. I recommend everyone to play a sport, but football is what I enjoy the most and it’s the unity that you create. It’s just a feeling of freedom to go out and play football with friends. Whether you play football for your career or just for fun it’s something that creates a fellowship, and you make great friends for life in football, it just means a lot.
Domenico Tedesco (manager , Germany): At a time when countries maybe don’t get on politically, I believe that sport still unites. In a team you have different nationalities, different mentalities who are all pulling in one direction. I think that sport is simply a strong, good and positive symbol.
Geir Bakke (coach, Norway): It’s been a part of my life since I was a child. It’s that feeling of being a part of a collective, a team. Achieving goals together, whether as a player or a coach, and getting that team spirit to work, getting people to work together, that’s what drives me. The game in itself is very interesting, but it’s also the fact that people can make things happen together.
Robert Prosinecki (manager, Croatia): Football has given me everything. Through football I’ve not only made money and fame, but I’ve also made lifelong friendships and had amazing experiences. I’ve played for big clubs around the world, which were the best times for me as a player. There comes a time when your career ends and you have to think about the next stage. You think about going into coaching, which isn’t an easy option, but when you start out, you fall in love with the game all over again, and you enjoy it maybe more than even playing the game. As a coach you can see how your team improves or if your team is falling, and you learn from all of that. It’s a really interesting job, and if you’re successful it feels just as good as if you were a player.
Emmanuel Dennis (footballer , Nigeria): I never thought I would become a football player. As a matter of fact, I didn’t really like football when I was at school. I was not into football. I wanted to become a priest. Yes, a priest! Then later I changed my mind and wanted to become a doctor, but as time went on and I started playing, I got more compliments from people saying: “You could play football”. People came up to my family and said: “Why don’t you take him to a football academy?” That’s when I started to get interested in playing football and then voila! Here I am.
Igor Akinfeev (goalkeeper , Russian Federation): In terms of the other lads that we’ve had in the team, then each one of them tells us about their experiences, their outlook on life and their homeland. I, personally, really enjoy that side of things and these little chats give you a real insight into them as people. I think we’re all people and we’re all equal. We all have the right to lead our lives the way we see fit.
José Peseiro (manager, Portugal): Fortunately, football has given me the chance to be in several countries, in several continents and get to know other environments that are as important as ours and have as many good qualities as well as faults as ours. All societies and cultures have good things as well as bad things. I believe that all of us have the right and obligation to improve those things which aren’t as good in our societies.
Adi Hutter (manager, Austria): We all started as amateurs. We all played as kids in a small club, in youth teams. There are amateurs that become professionals and there is amateur football. And this is why professional sport and the popularity of sport is important. I like to talk to people who are active in our region and, at the end of the day, we do the same thing: we play football. We play the same sport and this is what connects us. The people that go to stadiums have different social backgrounds as well, but that’s football and football connects these people. Therefore, football truly connects people and society nowadays.
Javier Zanetti (director of football, Italy): Football is a very important tool because it reaches the whole world. I don’t think discrimination should take place anywhere, especially in football.
Thomas Delaney (footballer, Denmark): The big question is, you don’t want to lose the joy that football brings you on the way [to becoming a professional]. I think that’s the most important thing for everybody; it’s about having fun. And it still is for us. Of course, as professional players it becomes more and more like a job, but if you don’t find that joy when going out and training with a ball, then maybe you should think about other stuff. And that is also true when you’re young, you don’t always have to be in the best team. You will develop more by having fun than being in the best team. That’s what’s counts at that point: having fun.
Michel Nicolet (Hospice général, Switzerland): Football is extremely important to me. I’ve been playing the game since a very young age. Nowadays I work with migrants, and football assists the integration of these young men and women into Swiss society, given that we’re here in Switzerland. Football is a game that brings people together because there are no differences; everyone can play and everyone knows the rules. It’s not a case of there being good and bad players, everyone is out there and there are 11 places on the pitch. It brings people together. You get people from a whole range of jobs, all colours and nationalities. I think that it’s really unifying and it’s marvellous.
Ole Jørgen Halvorsen (footballer, Norway): I love the game itself, I think it’s a fantastic sport. No matter if you’re small or tall, everyone can play football. You can be poor or rich, it doesn’t determine whether you can become a good footballer or not. I guess that’s what is the most fascinating thing about football. Football is for everyone no matter who you are, and the dressing-room culture is incredibly fun to be a part of, and something that is unique to football.
Sébastien Haller (footballer, France): I believe that football has the ability to bring people together and cancel out differences. It allows people to come together in the name of something magnificent. In football, it doesn’t matter where you’re from and what you do in life, whenever you play football you’re able to enjoy yourself and it allows you to forget about everything around you. I think that football has a special power and it’s something that we have to promote so as to ensure that there’s no discrimination.
Antoine Tardy (photographer, Switzerland): As a photographer, I’ve witnessed many times how football can really tackle social issues in communities around the world. Just to give you one example, I went to Rio a few years ago and I visited a project in a favela called Guadalupe. The project is about keeping kids out of trouble and out of violence through football. They bring them to the pitch after school and that’s how they tackle the issues in the favela. So really football around the world is a great tool for integration and to address social issues.
Teemu Pukki (footballer, Finland): Football players are idols for people and especially young children. We have a good opportunity to give a picture of how to take care of matters well and how to stay united without discrimination. I trust the way we do it means someone can learn from that and will see that we do things the right way. I believe it will help.
Parm Gill (safeguarding officer, England): In my opinion, football should be for everyone. You shouldn’t just look at it as it’s for girls. Girls should come. Everyone should have the opportunity. You don’t know what girls can do, we are equal today
Andri Vilbergsson (occupational therapist, Iceland): On the pitch it doesn’t necessary show whether you are ill or not, or if you have any mental problems. What is so great about football is that it unites us in that way. When you are a spectator in the stands and watching a group play, you don’t know if there is anything the matter with the players, with any one of them. Unless they are limping, or injured or missing one hand, you can’t see if they have illnesses, and it is just so great that everyone should get the opportunity to play football.
Elín Ebba Ásmundsdóttir (occupational therapist, Iceland): On the pitch, everyone is equal. It doesn’t matter where you come from and what kind of problems you are dealing with. It’s the ball that matters, and to get it into the goal, that’s what is important. It doesn’t matter if you are a part of the team that’s playing or a spectator. You forget yourself.
David Ospina (goalkeeper, Colombia): There’s so much passion in football. It’s a sport that can bring the whole world together, it really is a beautiful game. This helps people to forget about all their problems, all the things that happen around the world and that affect a lot of people in their own countries. As a sport, football can contribute to spreading a positive message, helping us all to find the peace we want to see in the world.
Stephan Lerch (coach, Germany): I just love the joy that this sport generates. The interaction. It’s a team sport. You have to engage with your team-mates. You have to have trust. You have to believe in yourself, but also in your team-mates. That’s just a very powerful feeling and if you achieve success at the end of it - and that doesn’t always have to be in the shape of trophies, it can be other forms of success like winning or grinding out a draw against a big club - then it brings you together.
Pernille Harder (footballer, Denmark): When I first started [playing] in the small village I come from, my mum was the coach and I was playing with my friends and just having fun. I think it’s important to have fun and during those first years of playing, I grew to love football. Later, it was more serious and I found that I wanted to do something with football. Then I got the ambition [to play]. But in the first place, it was just about having fun together with my friends.
Sarah Bouhaddi (footballer, France): It’s a joy to have international teammates. I really think it’d be difficult to have a French-only team. Having completely different cultures in the team and international players who can bring in different football philosophies is really important. They also allow us to have a certain balance, as we’re lucky they’re not only international players, but outstanding ones too. I’m very happy we have a mix of French and international players at OL because our different cultures do reflect on the pitch and we’ve managed to strike a good blend.
Edin Džeko (footballer, Bosnia and Herzegovina): Certainly you start to learn from a young age, all the basic things that every player needs. I think that the work ethic is paramount, regardless of the talent. There were a lot of talented players in my generation, who maybe didn’t work hard enough. I think that the most important thing one can say to the young players is to work a hundred per cent from a young age and then anything is possible.
Alexandra Popp (footballer, Germany): We’re on a platform which is very mediatised, us as well as men’s football. It’s especially up to us, as role models, to go public and continue with things which are more important than playing football and running after a ball. There are so many things which are much more valuable in life. One example of it is “No to racism”. We 100% support that. That’s very, very important to us.
Florian Thauvin (footballer, France): Leaving your country at 22 and adapting to a new culture, new language, different food, a new league - it’s not easy. But these are the things that make you grow and mature. Things are only going well for me now because I went through this difficult period in England which taught me things and helped me grow. All experiences teach you new things.
Kostas Manolas (footballer, Greece): When you’re a personality known all around the world, you have to be an example, because the kids look at you as an idol. Therefore, you always have to be an example for them, with humility, both on and off the pitch. They want to be like you and you have to set an example.
İlkay Gündoğan (footballer, Germany): What I love most about football is that it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether it’s professional or not, you can still stand on the pitch and play and forget about all the problems you have in your daily life. It’s about performance, fulfilling your responsibilities, and having fun playing. And I’ve been having fun ever since I was a little kid and I don’t want to ever lose that. And that’s why I love football so much and why it’s so important to me.
Reynald Pedros (coach, France): The emotions, the team. As a player, I couldn’t do without my team-mates. This was very important to me. If I got to be a good football player, a large share of the credit certainly goes to my team-mates. The team is vital to me. It’s through the team that individual quality is expressed. Football is about emotion, winning, sharing experiences - all of these things.
Trent Alexander-Arnold (footballer, England): There were times when I’d play from about nine in the morning to about nine at night on the summer days when you can. It was always better when the summer came around because in winter you have to stop playing about five o’clock when it goes dark and you can’t really see anymore, but when it’s summer you stay up later. You can get up earlier and you stay out later and you can get that bit more football in. It brings a smile to your face.
Diego Simeone (manager, Argentina): The culture, the ability to adapt yourself, to integrate within that new society you live in. [You also need] to learn, to listen, to watch… And, above all, [you need] to be yourself. It doesn’t matter which country you come from, it’s becoming more and more extraordinary to meet normal people nowadays. And I consider myself a normal guy.
Ada Hegerberg (footballer, Norway): I think what I love the most about football is that it’s for everyone. It’s as simple as that. It’s so simple to have a ball and go out and play with your friends, whether you’re a boy or a girl, young or old. It’s so global and it’s easily accessible for everyone. Everyone can dream and have big dreams of becoming a football player, so that’s the beautiful part of it and that’s what I try to keep in mind as well: That I’m really privileged to be in the position that I am, I’ve worked hard for it, of course, but try to enjoy it as much as possible as well. There are hundreds of thousands of others that wish they were in our position.
Alessandro Del Piero (former player, Italy): Being able to play football is a great privilege at this level, because you travel so much, meet so many people and so many different characters and encounter so many different ways of life, languages and countries, so I’m very grateful to this sport, in particular for this aspect of it, which is extraordinary. I’m delighted to be able to say this because it’s something I understand much more than when I was young.
Jürgen Klopp (coach, Germany): You don’t even have to be smart to understand that we are all the same, the game shows you that immediately. You sit in the same dressing room, you go out on the pitch, you play together and if you don’t pass to your mate from the same city, it makes no sense. If you don’t pass to your mate from another country, it makes no sense. The game doesn’t work like that; it only works if you really play together, and that’s how football should be and how the world should be as well, but sometimes, the world especially, can still improve.
Ronaldinho (former player, Brazil): Thanks to the gift God has given me, I had the opportunity and the pleasure to be able to see other countries and get to know other cultures. I was fortunate enough to be able to learn other languages. Football has given me everything I have. That is why I thank God every day for having given me this gift, for having brought me into this world to play football. Thanks to football and the gifts given to me, I am who I am.
Zinédine Zidane (coach, France): Why is football wonderful? Because it’s universal and at the same time, it brings different people together, without considering who belongs to which religion or anything like that. We’re all the same. There are some people who do things better or may be better; that’s life. What stays with you is sharing things on a human level.
İlkay Gündoğan (footballer, Germany): What I love most about football is that it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether it’s professional or not, you can still stand on the pitch and play and forget about all the problems you have in your daily life. It’s about performance, fulfilling your responsibilities, and having fun playing. And I’ve been having fun ever since I was a little kid and I don’t want to ever lose that. And that’s why I love football so much and why it’s so important to me.
Kevin Gameiro (footballer, France): For me, respect came first. And to remain humble and have pleasure above all. Sometimes, when people ask me about it, I talk about pleasure because this is the best way to learn. Because if you already feel pressure at ten or 12 years old, it becomes harder. So pleasure first, and the rest will come easily.
Stephan El Shaarawy (footballer, Italy): Meeting players from different nations and ethnicities always teaches you something. I think you really see this not when you meet them but when you share a changing room with them. We’re obviously different and you understand many things about their cultures, habits and what they do. It teaches you good life lessons. In my changing room, I get on really well with all the players from different nations, especially the Brazilians!
Gianluigi Buffon (goalkeeper, Italy): It has been a beautiful journey, full of emotion, and I have overcome many challenges and difficulties. Obviously, Mother Nature helped a lot at the beginning, because I think I was very fortunate in terms of the physique and talent that I was born with. But I think I have also contributed a lot, my character, my desire to improve and my pride in writing a small bit of footballing history.
Jules Rasoelbaks (coordinator, Netherlands): I love football because we are a unit, we are a team. We play together, showing solidarity, and we have fun playing football. We speak to each other and we feel only love.
Gerko Brink (project leader, Netherlands): Football gives those people in prison or detention centres, who are motivated to make a new start, actually a genuine new start. [That’s] because a football club often provides a new social network and a ‘warm nest’ for people who don’t have that or are looking for it.
Nadia Nadim (footballer, Denmark): It’s really simple because I love it, it makes me happy, and no matter how stressed I am and what’s going on outside, as soon as I step on the field and see the ball, everything kind of disappears. It’s so easy to play football, you can play it anywhere, you can play it alone, you can play it with a ball and if you don’t have one you can kick something that’s round.
Ramutė Kartavičienė (retired police officer, Lithuania): Yes, I am a grandmother. I really, really like to play football. And I just… We all try to train more, to learn more about this sport, with all its subtleties, and we are really happy that we play. Others want to play as well, so we say, “Come and join us. Create your own team and we will meet on the pitch.
Radu Almășan (singer, Romania): I fell in love with football since early childhood, when I was only 3 or 4. Romania was under the Communist regime back then, and you couldn't really express yourself loudly. Later on, when I met people all around the world, I noticed that every time you want to know someone, two questions pop up: What music are you into? What football club do you support? And then I realised that, even though I tried to be a professional football player and didn't manage, I was able to forge a musical career. And I'm glad that both music and football bring people together all around the world, irrespective of country, race, religion, giving them one starting point for knowing each other.
Augustė Zubrickaitė (student, Lithuania): I like football because the whole team plays together, you have to talk with each other and it’s not just one player on their own. You’re not fighting all by yourself; other players help you. You are not alone on the pitch.
Brockenhurst Football Club (under 14 team, England): Player 1: Football is about having fun, enjoying yourself and working as a team. Player 2: I reckon It’s for anyone, anyone can play it. You don’t need to be skilled, you can just learn. Player 3: When I play it, I get this excitement in me, like I can change the game or something like that. Player 2: It’s good because you can play it anytime, anywhere with anyone you want and it’s really fun. Player 3: No matter what you look like, what disabilities you may have, whether you are a boy or a girl, or who you are. No matter who you are, you can still play it. Player 1: It’s a community, football, it’s all around the world. And that’s the joy in it because it never gets old, it carries on.
Pierluigi Collina (former referee, Italy): Football is unique in that it can be played in a huge stadium in front of a massive attendance, with television cameras in place, such as for a final, or it can be played in the park by children, as I used to do so often as a youngster, with books for goalposts, without nets or a goal frame, generating arguments about whether the ball went in or not, while being able to enjoy yourself through this magnificent game.
Luis Figo (UEFA, Portugal): Football brings about a feeling of passion and love. Football is universal. It does not matter what part of the world you are in or which race you are, it does not matter which friends you may or may not have. I think it's a sport that integrates and one in which you have passion for what you do. It is a unique sport and one that can change the world. That's why it's a sport that I learned to love and that I still do.
Vincent Aboubakar (footballer, Cameroon): I've been passionate about football since back when I was in Garoua, in Cameroon. It's what I did for fun with my friends, but my family wanted me to focus on studying instead, as that was the education my older brothers received from my parents and wanted to pass on to me too. But I kept playing for Coton [Sport] and when the time to make a choice came, I decided to keep playing football. I had started playing football for pleasure, to have fun, but then it became like an occupation to me.
Ederson (footballer, Brazil): As a kid I would play in the streets with my friends and cousins. We played barefoot and our toes got hurt many times from playing barefoot on cement. I think it was a very happy childhood, in which I played a lot of football. I guess that was when I fell in love with football. I've always had a taste for it and I've always kept that with me.
Mircea Lucescu (manager, Romania): Football helps these social relationships very much. Kids find it very easy to become friends when they play football. If some kids have a conflict, they become friends if you give them a ball, because they are forced to collaborate, they are forced to be friends, to hug each other after the game and to feel these extremely powerful emotions.
Timur Zhamaletdinov (footballer, Russian Federation): Football is played all around the world. It doesn't matter what nation the guys in your team are from or where they come from, we are all equal.
Joël Matip (footballer, Cameroon): Football is played all around the world and it doesn't matter where players come from. All you need is a football, the goals themselves aren't so important, you can improvise them. It doesn't matter what languages your teammates speak, you can play with them regardless. That's what makes it so special.
Abubacarr Konta (migrant, Gambia): Football unites people, that’s what I like in football. I have friends. We go out together thanks to football. When I had just arrived and did not have a team, I was not going out but once I joined a team, we became one. I’m grateful to the RETE! project because they help with lots of things. When I joined the project they took us to many places. We go for training three times every week and they provide us with a coach.
Ani Grigoryan (student, Armenia): Football plays a big role for girls, especially in Gyumri, Armenia because we are able to find ourselves, challenge the idea that football is only for men and we prove a lot through football.
Patrick Mboma (coach, Cameroon): I was eight years old when I played this game The other side were leading 4-0, but then I got an assist and scored the three other goals. So, you can imagine that sensation in your first ever “official” game. From that moment it was impossible to think I would play another sport or stop playing football. In what must have been about 50 minutes of playing, the feeling was so great. You can imagine after you’ve seen the World Cup for the first time, you go and play this game. You feel like the star of the game, and you realise that it’s marvellous. I wasn’t Mario Kempes, the match wasn’t as important, but for a kid it was just amazing and that was the start of my journey.
Hugo Viana (former player, Portugal): I think friendship and discipline are the most important things in football, because you know a lot of people and you have to respect your colleagues every day. We spend a lot of time with them, with colleagues, coaches, directors, presidents, and with discipline and friendship you can achieve very good goals.
Willi Orban (footballer, Germany): I like the connection. Football brings together people from many nations and cultures. Football is one language. And a lot of work is done as a result of that integration.
Kaspars Gorkšs (LFF, Latvia): It’s a wonderful game. It doesn’t matter whether you play, or sit in the stands, or watch your little son play football, it’s the game that gives me emotions that nothing else can give me.
Lise Munk (footballer, Denmark): For me, one of the most important things about football is its role as a social unifier. Sport is something that brings people together, so people should also be able to play it, whether it’s football or another sport.
Sir Alex Ferguson (former manager, Scotland): And in one year - in fact, several years - we probably had over 22 different nationalities. And I found it fantastic. It was a great challenge for all of us, but what we found was that they were not different from us. Not at all, because number one: they wanted to play football. When you’re on that football field, it’s the same language
Dimitri Payet (footballer, France): I was with my parents when I saw on the television that I’d been picked for France for the first time, and my parents were nearly in tears. These are moments that happen very rarely in your life, but football creates these sorts of moments, you can forget everything else. For me, footballers aren’t the stereotypes that we have, they’re human beings and they share these special moments with the people closest to them.
Arjen Robben (footballer, Netherlands): Yes, I think that sport in general connects [cultures]. Football is of course the number one sport, so with regards to that it's something you can use to also bring together all the different cultures.
Raheem Sterling (footballer, England): Everyone should have the opportunity to play football if they love it. They should have the right facilities. Not everyone comes from a great background, not everyone has lavish things. Some people have to build their way up. I love the way they’re building loads of facilities for young kids now to be able to showcase their talent, their ability, so in the future, they can really have a chance at playing at the high level.
Viktor Goncharenko (coach, Belarus): Playing street football. You wake up in the morning in summer, take the ball and go outside. That constant motion. Football - street - football. Doesn’t matter which street, you just need a ball and people to play with. That’s my best memory.
Radja Nainggolan (footballer, Belgium): Everyone is free to choose what they want to do. Football is a very popular sport, lots of kids hope to become great players, so it’s only fair that they are able to try.
Dimitri Oberlin (footballer, Switzerland): I love the beautiful side of the game: fantastic moves, goals and watching what the top players can do on the pitch.I also love what football can bring to people because 40,000 people don’t often sit in a stadium in the cold to watch something. That’s what I love about football.
Kevin Kampl (footballer, Slovenia): That’s what football is all about: you have to respect everybody the same way, no matter what colour they are, where they’re from what background they come from. Football is the only thing that matters and, for me, there’s actually no better way to connect people. It’s a great way to do it.
Gilberto Silva (technical director, Brazil): Football has changed my life completely in all aspects. You can imagine the way I think about the game, the way I absorb the message, the way I see the players and the infrastructure of any club. I understand the fans’ passion more, but also have my own understanding that the game can be good to everyone.
Eniola Aluko (footballer, England): For me, football is a gift. I grew up playing football not really knowing how I was good or why I was good at football. In my local area, there were a lot of boys, so for me, football was my quickest way of being accepted. Playing the game was to be accepted amongst boys, and then I quickly became the girl that was better than the boys. So, it became an identity for me, playing football, being cool because I could play, and the boys thought I was cool because I could play. So, from a young age, even though I’m different from the boys, or different in terms of my background, it’s something that actually became acceptance.
Maxwell (assistant sporting director, Brazil): Football brings everybody together. There’s no difference between boys or girls, rich or poor, everybody has a ball, everybody can play on the streets. I come from a culture where everybody loves to play football and this is something that impressed me. The purity of the game and the passion of the game brings people together.
Vaclav Sindelar (massage therapist, Czech Republic): Football is accessible to everyone, all over the world, regardless of race, age… It’s accessible to children, the middle aged, adults, pensioners, all people around the world together. More than anything else, it gives me optimism and energy in my life. This is something we blind people need a lot.
Denis Glushakov (footballer, Russian Federation): I think football is the most popular sport that can be played anywhere. On the streets, at home, everyone can play it. And it’s good for your health. It’s better to go outside to run and play rather than sit inside at the PC or play a console. Of course, everyone plays FIFA but it’s better to play for real.
Moussa Dembele (footballer, France): I learned almost everything I know through football. It taught me a lot of things in terms of acting as a man, as a human being and as a footballer too. It really means a lot to me.
Giorgio Chiellini (footballer, Italy): Football is about joy, passion and also relating to others because when you’re part of a squad, you have to know how to conduct yourself and show respect to coaches, referees and your opponents. Football has so many qualities that have to taught, particularly to young children.
Alberto Botia (footballer, Spain): All over the world, football sparks passion and gives off the message that, from the first minute to the last, anything is possible. You see the passion shown by children and parents, people from all walks of life, when they go to matches, and that shows that the love of football transcends racial and national boundaries. Passion for football is everywhere.
Panagiotis “Takis” Lemonis (coach, Greece): I think that what we love about football is the unpredictability. This may be the most democratic sport. Everybody has the right to win whether you’re an amateur or professional. For 90 minutes all social differences are levelled out. We see, for example, famous lawyers or politicians who are sitting in the stands and celebrate goals. This is the magic of football.
Christian Eriksen (footballer, Denmark): I think I love everything about football. The feeling when you do what you enjoy. It’s a hobby turned into your profession. It’s the dream job that you’ve always wanted. So I think it’s a bit of everything. To get out and kick the ball around is what I enjoy.
Kolo Touré (coach, Cote D'Ivoire): I was playing on the street. I had no Playstation before, football was my Playstation. I had to go outside, one of my friends had a ball, there was 50 of us because none of us had a Playstation at home. You had to just play. That’s why football is everything to me.
Stiliyan Petrov (former player, Bulgaria): I’ve lived and grown with football. I’ve loved everything: being able to train, kick a ball, develop as a footballer and as a person, because people don’t realise that football teaches a lot of lessons - good lessons and bad lessons. As long as we remember the good ones, because after bad ones good ones follow… In the end, if you make better choices and you’ve learnt from the bad lessons, than you’ve done well.
Lala Yeritsyan (FFA, Armenia): Football is very important to me as it’s the number one sport, not only in Armenia, but across the world. A small ball is able to unite people from different cultures and backgrounds. It’s about the amazing atmospheres, fascinating games, fascinating people, international relations and people coming together. That’s football.
Maya Tsolakyan (student, Armenia): It was very hard for me to come to play football, but it was because of the coaches that I came to play. Since childhood, I have loved and dreamed of playing football. When my coaches came and found me, they had a shortage of goalkeepers in their team and asked if I would go and train. It was certainly very difficult as my parents wouldn’t allow me to, but I am here now and I really love football. I always dreamed of playing and now my dream has come true.
Nadine Kessler (UEFA, Germany): One of my favourite memories was definitely when I scored my first goal with my boys’ team. I was probably four years old. I always used to play with boys, so it was quite a big challenge for me, however, I made it and I was successful in my first game. So it made me obviously really happy and really confident, and it reassured me to go for the sport and to be passionate for it my whole life long.
Marc ter Stegen (goalkeeper, Germany): Football brings people together. It gives everyone the same opportunity, and I think it’s how people come together all over the world. When you play on a football pitch, you play with your friends, you play with different nationalities, everyone comes together. It doesn’t matter where you come from, all that matters is who scores the most goals and who concedes least.
Luka Modrić (footballer, Croatia): I remember that, after school, the first thing I did was to go outside to play football with my friends, with my father. Being happy with the ball around, with trying to go every day and learn something new, and just being happy and enjoying playing football every day.
Djily Niang (refugee, Senegal): Above all, I’ve learnt about fair play, which is very important to me. It’s great to play and enjoy yourself. It’s a sport which brings us all together.
Esmayil Namasparast (refugee, Iran): I’m happy that here I don’t see a difference between the people. Everyone has the same rights and duties. I’ve seen humanity and justice, something I haven't seen in my own country.
Andriy Shevchenko (coach, Ukraine): Football is an international game; it’s accessible to all. It has nothing to do with politics or religion. It’s a game that’s accessible to all and it should be pure, not only in the top competitions but also among children. It’s competitive to a certain extent, but it’s a game. It should be accessible to all. Everyone should try to get pleasure from it, because that’s the reason we play this sport.
Dejan Stankovic (UEFA, Serbia): #EqualGame – you have to examine this message right to its core; it’s simple but powerful, and says that we all have to be equal. We have to work all together, we must play together and show love to one another. This is the most important message.
Emel Melville (student, Northern Ireland): The coaches, they all teach you loads of lessons that you’ll carry throughout your life, they taught me respect. Although I have learned respect in my home they taught me how to respect, it’s just a different kind of respect, you know? Respect for your coaches, and teammates, and they’ve also taught me how to work as a unit, and they give you some self-discipline.
Eric Abidal (former player, France): Deep down, football is still an easy game to play, it’s very accessible: all you need is a ball. Then you need to know how to share it and I still think the best place to share it is the street. We know that, in a lot of countries, players and kids in particular don’t have the best surroundings to play football in, but they make do with what they have, playing in the street for example, so it’s still an accessible sport. Other than that, it’s about being able to share it, and to learn about different cultures, particularly from foreign players. And I know that other players were able to learn from me about France and about Lyon, about its food, for example.
Henrik Larsson (coach, Sweden): I think it’s a game that brings people together; it doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from, whether you’re a man or a woman. You will always have somebody in your team who looks different or is from a different culture or country, so I think it’s very important, because it’s a way for humanity to start to treat each other nicely. I think that’s very important.
Khalida Popal (Girl Power Organisation, Afghanistan): It’s great, especially this campaign about respect and equality, it creates more love, friendship and also it creates discussion and ideas and brings people to think about it and think that it’s the time to be equal, it’s the time to think equal, and such a campaign, especially true for football, will impact a lot in every society. As usual, I always say that football is a great tool to empower people and bring people together, and it has only one language, and that’s love, unity and respect, especially in Europe right now we can see that more people are coming here.
Neil Mckee (club secretary, Northern Ireland): Well, football is often described as a universal language and regardless of what language people speak across the world, football gives us all the same shared joy. The [attendance and viewership] figures of the World Cup are a testament to that, as are the figures right across the world in terms of grassroots football, and the amount of people that can access football.
Senik Arakelyan (coach, Armenia): I have been in the sport for more than ten years. My day starts and ends with football, I watch football on TV, in stadiums. I cannot imagine my life without football or the activities connected to it. Football has become my life.
Bobby Barnes (FIFPRO, England): Well, I think it’s a very positive step, and I applaud the president Aleksander Čeferin for bringing UEFA forward to actually make this statement. It’s wonderful to be here today and see such great players like Paul Pogba coming along and supporting an initiative that really is important for the game.
Lou Englefield (Pride Sports, England): It’s a message on inclusion and diversity, but that’s also combined with a zero-tolerance towards discrimination as well, so it’s saying what we want to do is: we want to include everyone; we want to make everyone feel welcome; we want to tell people stories. But also, if there are problems, we will step in and take action, so good stuff.
Piara Powar (FARE, England): Well, I think this method of storytelling allows us to talk about things that otherwise people don’t want to talk about. The gay player; the refugee player; the person who’s disabled who we like to see playing, but we don’t necessarily want to run the session or be engaged or even understand how they’re going to play with one leg, for example. So, it allows us to bring difficult realities into the mainstream.
Hristijan Bozhinovski (student, FYR Macedonia): When I was little, I was watching football matches on TV. Then, I started deaf school and I saw that other (deaf students) were actually playing football. I thought, ‘how nice’! Then, I started playing football too.
Enis Asipov (student, FYR Macedonia): I love football. What is the feeling when I play? I feel happy. My heart beats stronger. It’s a good feeling.
Ruud van Nistelrooy (coach, Netherlands): A disability doesn’t mean that a person can’t function the same as a non-disabled person. I think that it doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or not. I have a niece who is severely disabled and she is an inspiration to me as well.
Dani Carvajal (footballer, Spain): I not only have the opportunity to play with people from all over the world, but I play with the best in the world. You learn from them every day: you notice everything they do and how they act. And you want to be like one of them. You also learn about values and different cultures because you share a lot of experiences in different countries. For example, this summer I went to Costa Rica because Keylor [Navas] told me to go there and said that I’d love it. So it’s a way of getting to know the world and make new friends all around the world.
Othman Mezouar (coach, Canada): Hello my name is Othman Mezouar. I am a football coach at Montreal Impact in Montreal. I am of Canadian and Moroccan origins. Why do I love football? Because it has enabled me to integrate myself well in Canada. That’s how I managed to make friends and get respect from those around me. That’s it.
Azeez Yusuff (student, Ireland): Hola! Hello everyone, my name is Azeez Yusuff. I’m originally from … I’m from Ireland, from Sport Against Racism Ireland. I love playing football because it just gives me more confidence and I get to meet a lot of people. And that’s what I love doing. I play in a stadium, I play semi-professional football, so I love football! Football is the life, the way to go!
István Szabó (sales agent, Hungary): Whether it be disabled football, women's football, or any type of football, football creates the same feeling everywhere.
Ada Hegerberg (footballer, Norway): Regardless of age, regardless of gender, football is a sport for everyone in the world.
Paul Pogba (footballer, France): We try to be a role model for everyone. We also have to convey the message that everyone can do a sport like football. It makes people happy. When we became world champions, we were all together. Every race came together, we hugged and kissed each other. It was wonderful and that’s what football can give to people all around the world. Sport can bring people together and that’s the purpose of this campaign, to make people aware that football is for everyone. It’s not for a single person, it’s not for a single skin colour. It’s for everyone.
Zehra Badem (student, Germany): Football is everything for me. When I play football, I’m the happiest person in the world.
Lionel Messi (footballer, Argentina): The passion of the fans.
Eddie Thomas (retired coal merchant, Wales): It's a sport for everyone football. We've still got it, even at our age! It's been a wonderful part of my life.
Cristiano Ronaldo (footballer, Portugal): Making a difference on and off the pitch.