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Drogba Interview

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Didier Drogba has spent most of his life on the move. The longest he has lived continuously in one place is five years, and those were the first five years of his life in the country of his birth, Ivory Coast. Since then, he has moved 14 more times. He can remember them all, but none as vividly as the first: when, in 1983, he was sent to live with an uncle in France.


Michel Goba, who was a professional footballer, persuaded Drogba's parents that the move would 'give Didier a chance in life'. So Drogba left behind a country where life expectancy in the 21st century is 30 years lower than it is in Britain, where nearly half the population is illiterate, there is constant fighting, extreme poverty and as many people with Aids as there are over-65s. But he knew then only that he was leaving behind his family. He was distraught.

Drogba's parents could not afford to fly with him from Abidjan, Ivory Coast's capital, to Paris Charles de Gaulle. 'I can remember it very clearly,' Drogba says, thinking back to that sad, sunny day as he looks outside at the rain soaking the pitches at Chelsea's training centre in Surrey. 'I had to travel alone, I was only five. I remember having this thing hanging around my neck, a label saying what my name was, and the stewardess looking after me. It was very, very difficult.'


He looks and sounds so intense that there is no doubting the strength of his emotions. He can still feel it nearly 24 years later. 'When I arrived in France, I cried every day. Not because I was in France - I could have been anywhere - but because I was so far, far away from my parents. I missed them so much.'

It was three long years before he saw them again. He returned, homesick, to live in Abidjan, playing football every day in a car park. Three years on, he was on the move again, aged 11. Both his parents were bank workers and both lost their jobs in an economic crash.


Since then Drogba has moved around France and ended up in England, where his performances as a goalscorer and all-round hero for Chelsea this season make him one of the favourites to be named Footballer of the Year. If he wins the award he would be the first non-European recipient of a title first won by Stanley Matthews, in 1948.


That would cap a remarkable five years in which Drogba became France's Footballer of the Year; scored the goals that took Olympique de Marseille, the team of his boyhood dreams, to the Uefa Cup final in 2004; signed for Chelsea for pounds 24m that July and, a year later, helped them to their first title since 1955; and, perhaps best of all, for him, his goals gave his troubled country the chance to fly their flag at the World Cup finals for the first time.


The youth of Ivory Coast love Drogba. Every time he returns to Abidjan airport now, he is swamped by media and fans, top of the television news, feted wherever he goes. Drogbacite - or Drogbaness, in English - is a cultural phenomenon in music and dance that shows no signs of disappearing, even though the Elephants, the national team, did not get past the first round in Germany 2006. 'Drogbacite? It's all about me, about my success of the last four years [since his international début],' he says. 'There is a special relationship between football and music, and Drogbacite comes from that. It's still popular. Me, I need my music, especially before a game. I use it at Chelsea to prepare in the dressing room.'


You can listen to the Drogbacite club hits on a compilation CD and to Drogba himself at the microphone on another disc. Before the World Cup, the Ivory Coast squad made a recording with Magic System, a local band, and both Drogba and the Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue showed that they can sing as well as play football. 'Yes, it's true I can sing,' says Drogba. 'But it's not what I do best.'


He does it well enough, though, and had the confidence to give a solo performance to the Ivory Coast President, Laurent Gbagbo, at a pre‑World Cup reception in Abidjan.


There is no exaggerating Drogba's fame in Ivory Coast. A few indicators: the popular one-litre bottle of Bock beer is big and strong, so is now known as a Drogba; a street in Abidjan has been renamed Rue Didier Drogba; an interview with Drogba in the local Stades d'Afriques newspaper led to a circulation increase of 87 per cent; and the most popular overseas club in Ivory Coast, which for years was Marseille, is now Chelsea - by a long way.


'Ask them in the Chelsea store,' says Drogba, 'and they'll tell you I am the one who buys all the shirts! When I go to Ivory Coast I always have to take so many, for my family and friends.'


Adam Khalil, who did that sales-busting interview with Drogba for Stades d'Afriques , says: 'He is a key personality in the life of Ivorians, young Ivorians above all. He is a symbol of success in life, the first Ivorian pro footballer who has been talked of like this. There is so much publicity around him and his performances that influences the life of young people. There are songs in which they sing his name. The way he dresses - the young copy it. The cut‑off T-shirts, the gelled hair. He is an example of social success. He came from nowhere and, with determination, succeeded.'

Just about every young Ivorian wants to be Didier Drogba, and if that is too much to ask, at least he wants to dance like Didier Drogba, who celebrated every goal he scored for Marseille four seasons ago with a dance. So Drogbacite is their way of taking on his personality, most expressively by copying his football skills, his feints and shots, in dance moves.


Oh yes, say the thousands of fans who cannot stand Drogba, the fans who make up songs about the 'conniving diver' who plays for the despised Chelsea. So, there must be thousands of young clubbers throwing themselves to the ground, falling over every time another dancer comes near, and writhing around on the dancefloor.

What do you say to those fans, Didier?


'I say they are not fair. In France there was a saying, I don't know if it's the same here, "Before looking at the others, look in your own team". I'm not especially a diver. Why accuse me?'

Last March Bryan Robson, then manager of West Bromwich Albion, was accuser-in-chief, saying: 'Drogba just dives all the time. He dives and feigns injury.' In the same month, after Chelsea's 2-0 win over Manchester City, Drogba told the BBC: 'Sometimes I dive, sometimes I stand.' He then withdrew the statement, blaming his poor English, and said: 'No, I don't dive.'


Earlier this season he spoke of how 'defenders enjoy kicking me, but I have moved on and I try to accept the assault now without falling down. I wasn't used to the English style at first and I didn't use my arms to protect myself. I played exactly as I had in France. Part of the problem is that challenges that are penalised in France are OK here.'


Now he tries to explain further. First, he emphasises that the differences between English and French football also apply when Chelsea play in Europe. 'In the Champions League the referees, even the English referees, have to whistle differently than they do in England. Some contact you cannot do in the Champions League. You need to adapt to this.

'And people here say, "He's diving, he's diving, he's diving", but when you're running with the ball and someone's coming at you like he wants to ...' - Drogba smacks his right fist into his left palm, loudly - 'to hit you or something, well, you are scared, you are a human being.' He pauses.


'I don't know how to explain it, that's part of the problem.'

Are you saying that you must take evasive action to avoid injury?

'It depends. It depends on the way he's coming at you. Of course, people think, "He's big, he's strong, he shouldn't fall over". People think footballers are all like robots, we can control everything on the pitch. But your heart is beating 200 times a minute, it's very, very physical.


'You need to have a football career to understand what we are feeling in a game, why we are doing this, doing that. You need to be a player to understand. I tell you, people making judgments, sitting at home on the sofa, they are in another world.'

Since that first flight, as he followed his uncle the journeyman pro and then his own career, Drogba has lived in Brest, Angouleme, Dunkirk, Abidjan, Dunkirk again, Abbeville, Tourcoing, Vannes, Poitiers, the Paris suburbs, Le Mans and Guingamp. In 1991, he was reunited with his family when his parents and six older brothers and sisters all moved from Abidjan to France. In 1999, there was a military coup in Ivory Coast as well as a big change in Drogba's life. He and his wife, Alla, a Malian whom he met in Paris, started their own family. 'Isaac's birth was a turning point in my life, it straightened me out,' he has said of his eldest son. Drogba now has three children and does not want them to move as often as he did.


Surprisingly, given his French connections, he is keen to stay in England when his playing days are finished. He wants to settle and he can think of nowhere better. 'When I like a place, I don't want to move. My children enjoy it, it's good for them to live here. Maybe I'll stay.' He has a specific task, too. Isaac wears an Arsenal shirt because Thierry Henry is his favourite player. Drogba has promised to become the new goalscoring superstar not just of the Premiership, but of his own family.


Asked for his best non-football memory from his time in England, he thinks hard about it, taking a long look at the ceiling. 'Waking up every day and seeing my kids speak English,' he says. 'They speak it better than me.'


Which must be very well indeed. Drogba has been taking lessons 'to develop my vocabulary' and it has helped to remove 'a wall between me and my mates' that was there when he arrived. He enjoys saying the word 'mates', which brings a little smile to his lips. 'The English you learn at school is completely different.'

He has felt settled before, however, and knows that 'in football, anything can happen'. Before coming to Chelsea, Drogba thought he would see out his playing days at Marseille.


'Oh, how I loved it there,' he says. 'I remember watching on television when Basile Boli, who was from Ivory Coast but played for the French national team, scored the winner when they won the Champions League in 1993. I already followed them and now I really fell in love with that club. When I signed for them everything was perfect for me. The weather, the city ... perfect. I thought I would spend the rest of my days there.' Drogba scored 18 in 35 games in his one-season stay, including the goals that knocked out Liverpool and Newcastle as Marseille made it to the Uefa Cup final. But neither he nor his club could say no to Chelsea's offer of pounds 24m in the summer of 2004.


The first club to pay a fee for Drogba did so because of an injury to Stephane Guivarc'h, the forward who played for France in the 1998 World Cup final. Guingamp, a small-town Breton team who were in the first division, took a gamble on a player who was spending a lot of time on the substitutes' bench at Le Mans, a division below. They paid pounds 80,000 for him in January 2002.

The man who saw something that others missed was Guy Lacombe, the Guingamp coach. Did Drogba himself see that potential?


'All I can say is I felt better, played better, against good teams. I found it difficult to express myself in the second division, there was a lot of physical contact. Whenever I played against a first-division team I felt better. The game was more thoughtful, more positional. It's strange, I know, but I preferred to play the stronger teams.'

Is it the same now?


'Yes. The Champions League, those are the games I love. You have to think. You make one mistake and, not always but usually, there is a consequence: a goal. Both teams are so experienced, the games are very close. You need a bit of luck. I learned a lot about how to play in these games in my first year at Chelsea. That was not my best season, but it was my most intelligent season.'

For all his success, Drogba has also had enough bad luck for one career. He was a junior at Levallois, his first club, and took his chance aged 18 when he came on for the last 10 minutes of a second-division game. He scored but his coach was unimpressed. Drogba then broke a foot when he tripped over a sprinkler, and later broke a metatarsal, a fibula and an ankle. His career kept stalling and he was 21 before he signed his first professional contract, at Le Mans.


At Guingamp he scored on his début and helped his club to stay up. The following July, Drogba made an explosive start to the new season with an injury-time equaliser against Lyon. He scored 17 goals in 34 games and Marseille paid pounds 3.3m for him. In the same year, 2003, Drogba made his début for the Elephants against South Africa. He had, as uncle Michel had predicted all those years ago, made something of his life, while back home in Ivory Coast the country was in turmoil, trying to recover from another failed coup. There was more to come: not just the move to Chelsea, but the goals that helped Ivory Coast to eliminate Cameroon in winning their World Cup qualifying group.

On hearing that Ivory Coast had made it after their victory in Sudan and Cameroon's surprise home draw with Egypt, Drogba dropped down on one knee in the dressing room, persuaded the other players to join him, and begged Ivorians to forgive one another and work for peace. 'There is more to Africa than war and fighting,' he says. 'Players like Essien, Diouf, Kanu, Eto'o in Spain, and me - we have a big responsibility because everybody in Africa believes in football.'


Will there be a Didier Drogba: My Life

'Yeah, I've thought about a book,' he says. 'I have a lot of things to say. From Ivory Coast to England I've had a lot of experiences - why not? But I'm not sure I would do it now. Maybe later, when I've finished playing.'


And the post-playing career? 'I've been thinking about that. I don't want to wait until I'm 34 before I start wondering about my future. If I decide I want to be a coach my wife wouldn't like it, but it's an idea I like.'


What of the current coach? Late last season, Drogba was thinking of leaving Chelsea, believing that some of the fans had turned against him. Jose Mourinho persuaded him to stay. 'I have a very good relationship with him. I know he believes in me and that's important. You need your manager to believe in you when you are not scoring, when you are having a difficult time. Now I will stay here. There's no point leaving.


'I was quoted recently as saying I was playing the best in my life, but that's not what I said. I said I was in my best form for Chelsea. I can do more. There is better to come.'


Has Drogba learned more from Mourinho than any other coach? 'Coaches can teach you two things: confidence, and technique. With other managers I learned more about technique, about self-control in front of goal, particularly from Guy Lacombe at Guingamp. From Jose I have learned how to win, how to reject defeat.'


The man who signed Drogba for Marseille, Alain Perrin - later Portsmouth manager - was sacked soon after Drogba's arrival; and the man who gave him his first contract, Marc Westerloppe, was also dismissed at Le Mans. What if Mourinho makes it a treble? 'Anything can happen,' says Drogba, who has made public his concerns about the dispute between Mourinho and Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich. 'There are some tensions at the club and when the bosses and manager are not rowing in the same direction, there are bound to be repercussions,' he said at his inauguration as a United Nations goodwill ambassador in Switzerland 10 days ago. 'Those arguments are having a negative effect on team performances.'


He believes the manager will stay, though. 'Everybody is saying that Chelsea are doing badly because we are not top, as we were last year, but nobody is talking about how well Manchester United are playing. They are very, very good.'


Drogba is among those who have spoken in support of Mourinho and, like John Terry and Frank Lampard, he wants Abramovich, to know how supportive the team are of the manager. But, he says, nothing will break their team spirit. 'It was strong before, now it is stronger. We are like a family.' And he includes the out-of-form Andriy Shevchenko in that statement. 'Everyone at Chelsea wants Sheva to succeed and I'm sure he will,' he says, pointing out that all foreign players take time to settle in England because of the cultural differences. That, he says, is what has happened to Shevchenko.


Drogba is very much a team man, as reflected by his answer to the question, what is your single best memory of your time in English football?


He shifts in his chair, in his designer jeans and white shirt, while doing a mental Google of all those goals he has scored, all those victories. The first title for Chelsea in 50 years, maybe? No. 'The Barcelona game at home.' The 1-0 this season or the 4-2 in 2005? 'The 4-2. I wasn't on the pitch, but that was it.'

Drogba was suspended and watched from the stands, yet this is his number-one moment.


'We are happy to have a professional like him,' says Mourinho. 'It is important to have players who fight for the team, who work, who attack and defend. He is the kind of player I would tell, "With you I could go to every war".'


The coach who 'spotted' Drogba for Le Mans in 1999, Alain Pascalou, says the Ivorian was a tough character even as a teenager. 'If any of the older guys gave him a hard time in the dressing room he'd stand up to them, answer them back. I had to get him out of a few sticky situations - at one point the club were going to sack him, but I convinced them to give him another chance.


'The thing with Didier is he's intelligent. The penny dropped, he realised what he needed to do to make it to the top. He has great willpower. He still comes back to see us and tells the kids here how he was lucky to have patient people around him and says how you have to work at it when you're young if you want to succeed.


'Didier wants to be a leader, wants to be loved. He needs to be lifted by the crowd, to feel the love. That's why he did so well at Marseille, with 60,000 fans screaming their passion at him, and why he took time to give his best at Chelsea. I don't think he felt that love from the crowd at the beginning. He's a showman, elegant, has charisma, class. And he cannot stand mediocrity.'

There are many reasons behind Didier Drogba's improved form. The main one, he says, is simply: 'I feel good.' He thumps his heart. 'Really good.' New signings and new tactics have played their part in making him feel that way. 'There is a big difference for me between 4-3-3 [last season] and 4-4-2 [this]. There is more room for me to express myself this season. And those African boys, they have helped.'


He is talking about Michael Essien, who has been a huge success; John Mikel Obi, whom Drogba tips to be 'the next great African midfield player, and that means one of the very best in the world'; Geremi, a versatile and important squad player; and Salomon Kalou, a fellow Ivorian who has yet to find his best form at Stamford Bridge.


'We have always had a good team spirit at Chelsea, very strong,' he says. 'For me, now it is even better.' Drogba socialises with the 'African boys' and enjoys a night out at an African club in London once a month with his own team-mates and others, among them Eboue, Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor, of Arsenal.

Back in 1992, the last time Ivory Coast won the African Cup of Nations ('I remember that well, watching on television, our goalkeeper Alain Gouamene was the hero,' says Drogba) English football provided one player for the biennial tournament, the Swansea and Nigeria defender Reuben Agboola. Now there seem to be as many Africans in the top division of English football as there were Scots back then.


Almost every club will lose top players next January and February, when the next tournament is held in Ghana. If their teams qualify, Kolo Toure, Eboue, Adebayor and Song will be missing at Arsenal; Diouf, Meite and Faye at Bolton; Kanu, Mwaruwari and LuaLua at Portsmouth; Yobo and Anichebeat Everton; Zokora and Mido at Tottenham; Sissoko at Liverpool; Martins at Newcastle, McCarthy at Blackburn, the list goes on. But none at Manchester United - and no team will lose more quality than Chelsea. Imagine taking Drogba and Essien out of their team now, while United stay as they are. What would that do to team spirit?

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seems like a sound guy,


one thing though its interesting about the afican cup of nations next year. alot of big teams loosing big players. like it says in the artical you could see chelsea struggle at the moment without drogba and essien (in my eyes essien is fast becoming one of the best players in the premiership). also us loosing yobo and anicibe.


wonder if the tournament will be televised here, with the quality going over there it could be good.

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