The Andy Cole Column: I'm a minnow, but the legend Eusebio made me feel special

Fired Up! Eusebio's comments said as much about English football's attraction around the world
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The Independent Football

I had one of the most surprising and humbling encounters of my professional career this week out here in Johannesburg, and if it showed me anything then it's the enduring popularity of English football.

I've been here since Friday attending events as an England 2018 ambassador, and I've run into all manner of fabled players from Carlos Alberto (Brazil's 1970 World Cup winning captain) to Ossie Ardiles to Ruud Gullit, not to mention a load of former internationals in a five-a-side tournament, more of which later.

And David Beckham is out here too, of course. Becks was meeting Sepp Blatter yesterday. Today he will be in Cape Town at a "Coaching for Hope" initiative before he heads back to lend some of his stardust to the draw for next year's finals.

My humbling incident was not directly related to 2018, however. It happened on Monday evening when I was having a quiet dinner with a friend and someone approached our table and said there was a gentleman who would like to meet me. "He's over at that table," I was told, and I looked around to see Eusebio sitting there.

I went over to him, and it was, quite honestly, surreal. I couldn't believe that I was talking to this utter legend, or more to the point I couldn't believe what he said to me. He said that HE was a fan of MINE! And this is a genius who won virtually every honour in the game with club and country and was a World Player of the Year.

"I'm a big follower of Manchester United and have seen you play many times," he said. His English was excellent. Then he started talking me through some of his favourite goals that I'd scored. How bizarre is that?

Eusebio told me how much he admired Sir Bobby Charlton, how he followed United from afar, and I could only sit there thinking: "You are among the greatest players ever to have kicked a ball and you're making me feel like I was something special too." Frankly, I'm a minnow compared to him but it was a wonderful night.

Eusebio's comments, in my view, said as much about English football's attraction around the world as about my role. As I expected, there are plenty of kids here wearing Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea shirts. Most if not all Premier League matches are live on TV. I even watched the Championship game between Blackpool and Preston in my hotel the other night. Sad but true.

There has also been, thankfully, a lot of positive feedback about our bid, although of course the South African people are rightly focusing on their own tournament next summer first.

The five-a-side was fun. I was part of an England old boys side, invited by Bryan Robson, who left Old Trafford before I arrived. It's been good to spend time with him, John Barnes and the others this week. South Africa's team included Mark Fish, Phil Masinga and Lucas Radebe. We beat them in the semis, before meeting (and losing to) Holland in the final. The Dutch had a good team featuring Ronald de Boer, Arthur Numan and Pierre van Hoojidonk.

Next for me in terms of bid work will be a trip to Nigeria in a couple of weeks' time for what we hope will be a series of constructive meetings about 2018. I'll be going out there with Lord Triesman, and although the itinerary has yet to be finalised, I think we will be meeting with Dr Amos Adamu, who is one of the 24 Fifa ExCo members who will vote next December on the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup.

The key to any successful campaign will be personal relationships to promote English football. Judging by this week, I think we're doing okay for now.

Bring on the group of death

Just because England have been seeded in the top pot for next summer's World Cup doesn't mean any guarantees of an easy ride.

The permutations could mean a "group of death" involving England, the US, Ivory Coast and France, which would be one tough section with no guarantees of progression. Or instead of the US, it could be South Korea, who are super-fit and dangerous. And instead of Ivory Coast, maybe Cameroon; and instead of France, Portugal (and we all know what happened in the 2006 quarter-finals). On it goes. Nobody should have any doubts that this will be a tough competition.

As a player though, I'd be thinking "Bring it on". Your only mind-set must be that you're good enough to win, in which case you know you're going to have to beat some big teams at some stage, so why not start early?

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar