Didier Drogba moved from Olympique Marseille to Chelsea last year for USD 45 million. This year, he could possibly enter football's history books. With the English Premier League title with Chelsea already secured, he is now aiming to take the Côte d'Ivoire national team to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the very first time.
FIFA magazine: What is it like being a 45 million dollar footballer?
Didier Drogba: For me, it is nothing special. The only thing that matters is that I am at a new club and I have to do my best to show people I am a good player. This is the most important thing for me. I don't take any notice of the amount that was paid for my transfer. That's not really my problem.
I know you are not responsible for the transfer fee paid by Chelsea, but is it easy to put it out of your mind and just concentrate on playing football?
Yes, it is easy because football is only a game. Football always remains football for me. Everything that happens around me is not my concern. If I cost a lot, I think it is because I played well last year. The only thing that I have to think about is to be the same player. I do not put pressure on myself. Football is so easy…
Is it really?
Yes. It is just a game, it is our passion. It is easy to enjoy it. Everything else around it has no sense.
How easy has it been living in England? Compared to Côte d'Ivoire and France, it must be a big change in terms of the culture and mentality you're used to...
It was a little bit difficult at first, because when I first came to London, I was very, very tired and it is not easy to start a new season with a new club at just sixty per cent of your potential. But after a few months it has become easier for me and I am enjoying it. It is fantastic that in my first season in England, I have won the Premier League title with Chelsea and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League.
What has been the most interesting part of being in England?
Learning to speak English! The most important thing is learning how best to communicate with my team-mates and I am happy that I am able to do that. My children also have the chance to learn another language, which is good for them. It is important that my family feels good about being here. If they are happy, I'm happy too.
You came to Chelsea after being voted France's Player of the Year at Marseille. That must have been a big achievement for you.
What I did last season was fantastic, because nobody was speaking about me two years ago but I kept working and only hard work can make you the best. When you work hard, you always get results. This has also been the case this season.
You've had to deal with a couple of injuries since joining Chelsea. Has it been easy dealing with these setbacks?
It was easy to live with it because I gave a lot for my old team last year. The injuries were the result of two or three years of football without holidays and sometimes your body wants to rest. But we had a lot of games at Chelsea, which was difficult and the injuries came. But I knew that when I was fit, I would give one hundred per cent to my team.
What's your assessment of Jose Mourinho as a manager? He's a very confident man. Does he instil the same level of confidence in you?
Yes, even before playing for Chelsea, when I saw him, he gave me confidence. It is easy to play well when you have a manager who believes in you. He believes in every player at this club and thinks we can win everything. You have to play for yourself but you have to play for him too, because he does everything for you.
What does it mean to win the English championship, which Chelsea have not won in such a long time? Do you know what it means to the club's fans?
Of course. When we won the league cup we could feel the atmosphere. It was fantastic. But their joy was obviously even greater when we won the English championship. That was just awesome.
You lived in Côte d'Ivoire until you were about five and then you moved to France to live with your uncle Michel Goba, who was a professional footballer…
He was like my father, because he gave me everything. Whatever I am today, it is because of the important role that he has played in my life. Everything I do is for him. He is proud of me and I am happy about that.
Were you confident that you would make a successful career in professional football?
I was always confident, even when I had serious injuries. That was the way I thought, that was my mentality. Anything could have happened but I still wanted to be what I can be. I never cared about my problems.
Is it true that you began your career as a defender?
Yes. I played as a right back.
So how did you end up becoming an attacker?
Because my uncle told me that it is better to play up front, where you can score goals and he knew I could score. When I became a striker, I scored a lot of goals and it was the beginning of what I am doing now.
Who has been the most influential coach in your career?
Marc Westerloppe, who is now at French club Lens. He asked me whether I wanted to go to Le Mans and he gave me everything to be what I am today. I trust him a lot. He changed so many things in my life. Before I met him, I used to train twice a week but with him it was every day. He taught me everything he knows about football.
With talented players like you, Bonaventure Kalou from French club Auxerre and Aruna Dindane of Belgian side Anderlecht, is the current Ivorian national team the best in your country's football history?
For sure, we've got a collection of players that we have not had in a long time. But we have not won anything yet. We have a team that can win matches and qualify for the African Cup of Nations and the 2006 FIFA World Cup™. It will not be easy, because we have Cameroon and Egypt in our qualifying group, but I am confident that we can do it.
You say you have not won anything. But Côte d'Ivoire won the African Cup of Nations in 1992...
Yes, but we have won nothing since then. We have to do better than that team. They won and until we win something they will always be better than us.
The Côte d'Ivoire national team is managed by Henri Michel, the former France coach, whose wealth of experience is well known. Has he instilled the right attitude in the team to help you to achieve your goals?
Yes. We started building our current team three years ago and we have a lot of experience now. Most of our players are in Europe, with some of the best teams, so we know what to do. Michel gives us confidence. He has told us that we can do it, qualify for next year's World Cup, and we must believe in ourselves.
You could have opted to play for France rather than Côte d'Ivoire, so why did you opt for them?
It was a natural decision for me. It was not difficult to choose. I feel Ivorian in my heart.
Did you need to make a bit of a cultural readjustment going back to play for Côte d'Ivoire, after living in France for so long?
It was very easy. It was if I had never gone to France. The older players in the team welcomed me and helped me feel confident.
|Didier Drogba, an international striker for Côte d'Ivoire is hoping to help them to their first ever FIFA World Cup™ finals in the country's history.|
Do your colleagues know how hard you need to work to reach Germany?
Yes. If you look at the top teams in Europe, you see one or two Ivorian players there and they work so hard at club level so that they can be called up for the national team and reach the World Cup. We are not interested in just qualifying for the World Cup. That will not be good enough for us. We have to go there and do our very best. I know that if we reach Germany we can do something that people will talk about for a long time.
Is it easy balancing your responsibilities when it comes to playing for Chelsea and your national team?
Of course, that's why I am here. If not, I would have remained at Le Mans or Guingamp. I can take the responsibility.
You are the eldest of seven children in your family. What's that like?
It comes with a lot of responsibility but my brothers are kind and my parents did a good job of raising them.
The political situation in Côte d'Ivoire has been very difficult in recent years. Does it worry you?
Yes, because I grew up in Côte d'Ivoire as well as in France and I have the two cultures in me. It is difficult for me to understand what is happening now because I have a lot of friends and family there but I hope that things will get better.
A lot of fans believe that the present generation of footballers are overpaid and do not appreciate their good fortune in life. What do you say in response to this?
People have to understand that our job is peculiar. We usually get good contracts for a seven-year period at best. After that, you leave football. Yes, we do get a lot of money but this is not just down to us. This is the economic situation of football. But people must remember that a footballer is a man before he is a player. He gives everything he can give. We earn a lot but we give a lot as well. For me, it is not just about money. If my family is not happy and not in good health, there is not a lot to celebrate. Football is good, money is good, but health is the most important thing.
What would it mean to hear the Ivorian national anthem being played at the World Cup in Germany?
A lot, but I do not have enough words right now to tell you how I would feel. Maybe I would be able to tell you at that moment, if you are there.
How do you take your mind off football?
Very simple. I stay with my three children and my family. That is the most important thing for me. Nothing else matters.
You're a young father with a lot of responsibility on your hands! How do you split your time between being a footballer and a parent?
I do not spend a lot of time with them right now but I will give them everything in a few years. They understand the nature of my job and I try to be there for them whenever I can.
How do you want to be remembered when you stop playing?
You know, when you win trophies, people remember you, but if you don't…
Are you not being a little bit critical?
Maybe they'll speak about you once or twice, but they won't remember you.