Monday 18 March 2019, 12:59

McGregor: Cristiano is still phenomenal at 34

  • Conor McGregor discusses Ronaldo, Pogba & Ibrahimovic

  • He urges Manchester United to appoint Solskjaer permanently

  • Could the UFC megastar have made it as a footballer?

They call him ‘Mystic Mac’. And a young Conor McGregor foresaw that his feet would be helping to earn him megabucks as a pro sportsman. While the Irishman assumed that would be rippling nets on muddy fields, however, it’s actually throwing wheel and tornado kicks in bloodied Octagons.

Blessed with cybernated precision and barbarous fist-force, McGregor KO’d Jose Aldo in 13 seconds and annihilated Eddie Alvarez over eight minutes to become the first man in history to hold two UFC titles simultaneously. His professional boxing debut, against Floyd Mayweather, is the second biggest-selling fight in the sport’s enduring history. Forbes listed McGregor as the 12th-highest-earning entertainer of 2018, ahead of Ellen DeGeneres, Lebron James, Taylor Swift, Jay-Z, Kim Kardashian, Gordon Ramsey and Guns N' Roses, while he's just come fifth on ESPN's World Frame 100.

'The Notorious', who attended France's 4-2 win over Croatia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ Final, billionaire strutted his way across a series of topics with, including whether he could have made it as a footballer, Sir Alex Ferguson, Roy Keane, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. How much football did you play growing up? Conor McGregor: Throughout my youth, I was big into football. I played striker or midfielder. If you were to sum me up as a player, I was efficient, devastating and slick – similar to my fighting style. Skills learned at this youthful age playing football – teamwork, leadership, commitment, dedication and discipline – without a doubt transferred over into my combat sports vocation.

Your former coach described you as a ‘goal machine’, while your managers at Yellowstone Celtic and Crumlin United both said you could have made it as a pro footballer if you hadn’t have given it up to pursue MMA. Do you feel you could have? I believe anyone can do anything if they believe in their goal and are dedicated to their craft. This holds to a young boy or girl wanting to be a football player, doctor, scientist, astronaut or musician. Whatever it be, you can have it! Become obsessed over it – you can have anything you want if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, and you can do anything you set to accomplish if you hold to that desire and with singleness of purpose.

Which clubs and players did you follow? I was more a player than a watcher back then, but Manchester United was my team. It was only the other day I came across an old picture of myself wearing that infamous grey United jersey, which I bought with my [First Holy] Communion money at eight years of age. I see my son when I look at that photo. I’d love to know where it is now. A truly ‘Notorious’ football jersey! I was attracted to the success and winning mentality of the club and people surrounded by United. Irish legends like Denis Irwin and Roy Keane were dedicated to their craft and had that winning mentality. Roy Keane was one of the best midfielders European football has ever seen. Opponents would be mentally beaten before they’d even stepped on to the pitch to face him. Then they had the don of football at the helm, the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. To have that much success over such a long period is remarkable and something I continue to aspire to. And he did it by nurturing youngsters into stars and not by spending and spending and spending like some of these other managers. It’s been great to see Sir Alex getting back to full health and continuing to be at the United games. What passion! I wish him and his family all the best.

What do you think of the job United’s current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, has done since he took charge? Ole Gunnar is a special man! I think he’s done an incredible job with United. They have to give him the job permanently. You can feel the pride and passion he has for the club and its history, and see the players honoured to wear the Red Devils crest under him. He’s really got the players performing. I think the same as a proud Irish man representing my home country of Ireland. Ole’s at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel!

Which United players have impressed you since Solskjaer took charge? Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have been particularly outstanding under him. They are young, confident and fearless athletes who believe in their abilities. Look at how Rashford, at 21 years old and having never taken a penalty, after a long delay and with the weight of the world on his shoulders, stepped up and scored against PSG. What a night. Keep going, men!

Juventus also pulled off a breathtaking comeback in the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16, inspired by Cristiano Ronaldo, with whom you had a much-publicised meeting in 2016. What do you make of Ronaldo since he’s gone to Juve? Cristiano is a phenomenal athlete, person, and entrepreneur. His all-around discipline, perfectionist attitude, and dedication to his craft is inspiring and has inspired so many young children to play football. Just look what he did recenty in the Champions League, at 34 years young, a hat-trick under the lights when the pressure was on for all the marbles. And against Atletico Madrid, one of the best defensive sides in Europe. That is inspiring! We are both disciplined athletes at the top of our game.

Another former Manchester United player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has a black belt in Taekwondo, said: “Conor McGregor is the Zlatan Ibrahimovic of MMA”… I respect Zlatan and his positive-winning-mentality mindset, but let’s get this straight: there is only one Conor McGregor! Zlatan Ibrahimovic is trying to be the Conor McGregor of football – good luck to him. Zlatan and Paul Pogba are welcome to come and train with me whenever they like.