Didier Drogba: Q&A

By Will van de Wiel  |  29 Jan 2015

This article originally appeared in Issue 7 of The Green Soccer Journal, June 2014. 

Didier Drogba is more than just a footballer. Chelsea legend, Ivory Coast talisman, UN Goodwill Ambassador, philanthropist, and a symbol to millions the world over, he has had an impact felt far and wide. The Green Soccer Journal went to meet him in Paris to discuss his latest attempt to raise money for his charity, the Didier Drogba Foundation – set up with the sole intention of providing relief, in many different guises, to the people of Africa. Easy-going, good-natured, likeable but, above all, an incredibly impressive human being with a self-awareness seldom seen in a person, let alone a footballer, this is the conversation which ensued.

So tell me how the idea for the underwear range Drogba & Co came about.

Didier Drogba:

The idea came when I was trying to look into other possibilities to raise some funds for the [Didier Drogba] foundation. There were all the charity dinners where we were raising [money] but we also wanted to find another way to fundraise.  And the idea came out of a partnership with HOM which is a big brand. We had this idea of making some underwear. It’s cool and it’s also helping the population because 1 euro from every item sold will go to the foundation. So it’s a very different approach and I haven’t seen many other people doing this.

So now I have a choice of your underwear, and David Beckham’s…

(Laughs and mimes taking a packet off the shelf) Mine is here, David Beckham’s is here… go for mine.

I know you have helped to build a clinic in your country What else are you planning to do?

There’s a lot of things to do. Building the clinic hasn’t finished yet – we are going to build five clinics in total. The first one in Abidjan is under construction. Every day will be a different goal because we are focusing on health and education so there’s a lot to do. The main thing is to help the people in Africa.

Do you think footballers should do more?

Maybe they are doing more and we don’t know. Maybe they’re doing it and they’re not as lucky as I am to have you guys around me to ask me questions, to bring more attention and support to my projects. A lot of people are doing good things in Africa, and in Asia, in South America and all these poor places. But I am lucky because people see me on TV, so there is more exposure.

‘Time’ magazine named you one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. Does that mean more to you than a football award?

It’s an amazing position to be in. To be on the cover [of ‘Time’] with Lady Gaga and Bill Clinton was the best cover of my life. I was really proud to see the names on that list and to see my name on that list. Also when I was on the cover of ‘Vanity Fair’ in America, I believe the only other African to have been on the cover was Nelson Mandela.

How much are you still involved in the politics of your country? You helped broker a cease-fire after five years of civil war in 2006…

I’m not a politician but the message I sent helped to cool down a political crisis. And if asked, I would do it again. The words we use are powerful, and I knew this, so I tried to send a message for people to understand: ‘We are coming from the same place, we are from the same country, so why are we killing each other? We should sit down because of all these things, fighting and war.’

There’s a lot of conflict just because these countries are poor. I am not a politician, I cannot decide but for the people what I can do is send a message knowing that it will be shown every night after the TV news or before every news [bulletin], so can you imagine the power of this every day for six months, eight months. So it makes you proud but it doesn’t make you a politician.

I want to ask you about the World Cup now. Are you worried about injury?

I am not worried about injury, I’ve had it before, I broke my arm, it’s part of our sport to be injured. If I am lucky enough to be fit and play in this World Cup I will be very happy. You know a few years ago I was thinking before I retire, I need to play in Brazil because Brazil is a spiritual home of football. I need to go there on a pilgrimage. I’ve never had the chance to do it so I was lucky there was a World Cup there.

Will you prepare any differently for this World Cup? What have your previous experiences taught you?

Nothing because when I went to the last World Cup 10 days before the first game I broke my arm against Japan; it was really broken. Because I played 10 days later people thought it was slightly or just a little bit broken. But it was really broken. But it was a great experience because straight after the surgery Nelson Mandela called me, and when people like him call you and say ‘Son, we need you at this World Cup and we really hope you are going to be there, I can’t wait to see you’, then you forget about this [points to arm]. It’s powerful, it makes you feel powerful, so I would never change anything. I won’t change anything for this [World Cup].

Ivory Coast suffered two penalty shoot-out defeats in the Africa Cup of Nations finals in 2006 and 2012, and England have employed a psychologist to help them for the upcoming World Cup. What do you think about that? Can you see the Ivory Coast ever using one?

Do you think we [Chelsea] used one to win the final of the Champions League?

[One look at his eyes tells me the answer]. No.

No we don’t need one. I think it’s your time, your moment, or it’s not. You can have all the professors or all those people to take a penalty but when you are sitting at a table talking you are not out on the pitch with the stress, with the fans, everything. You are all alone and then you take responsibility. You have to take it, but only the one who doesn’t take a penalty never misses, so you need some courage to take a penalty.

Speaking of all that stress, you are more than just a player, you are a symbol for your country. How do you deal with it?

[Laughs] I don’t know but I have to deal with it! You know when people expect so much from you and you want to make good things [happen] for them and then you miss a penalty like I did in the AFCON final you are disappointed, you are down but you have to do it again. It’s my mentality and I will never change. I will fall, yes, but I will always try to get back up – that’s how I grew up. Maybe I will miss more but I hope not! But we will see.

You mentioned earlier that you want to do a pilgrimage to Brazil before you retire earlier. When will you retire?

It’s difficult for me to speak about what is going to happen in four years’ time. Obviously everybody knows I am 36 now. I can only focus on the short term and after the World Cup, and will keep playing as long as I feel fit.

And what will you do? It’s been reported you might go into coaching. What about your charity work?

I will never leave the charity work I am doing, it is not something I am doing for [self] publicity, it is something I am doing because it is a part of me. I think I will stay in football because this sport gave me so much.

What about Chelsea? Would you coach there?

First I need to have the coaching badges and after maybe I will think about Chelsea or somewhere else, but I am not there yet – I don’t want to think about coaching yet, I want to play.

You played in England for eight years. What do you think of their chances at the World Cup?

I think they will have a good World Cup. They have a good team. I think the pressure is not the same as in 2010 or the one before. I was there [in South Africa] and I could feel the pressure on them and it was too much. It doesn’t help them.

Daniel Sturridge has been tipped to do well out there and has had a fantastic season for Liverpool. You played at Chelsea with him. What do you think of his rise?

You know, he’s arriving at this age where you need to play and, for a striker, you need to score goals, and you need to be with a coach who wants you and needs you because he knows that you are going to make a difference, and that’s what he gets with Brendan [Rodgers]. I know this coach very well because he was at Chelsea before. I know the way he is thinking and I know his approach to the game and how he can motivate players and give you confidence. It is perfect for Daniel […] and the thing I really like about him is that he learnt from his time at Chelsea and now he is an even better player, not because he is scoring goals but because he’s sharing as well, and he knows that to receive you need to give. He’s learning this and he’s one of the best strikers in England.

I have to ask you about Jose Mourinho.

[Smiles and rolls his eyes] Why is it that everyone wants to talk about Jose?

I think that the margins which separate the great from the merely good managers, come down to psychology, how the managers deal socially with their players, so I am keen to see what you say about him.

[Nods his head] Yes. He’s fair. If you are good and you deserve to play then you play. He’s trying to be fair. If you deserve to then you will. If you are not good, he will tell you you are not good. If you have problems at home he will say ‘OK, take two days off and sort your problems at home.’ He has a different approach, he cares about the players. It’s simple.

My last question… I asked a friend of mine who is a die-hard Chelsea fan and Didier Drogba acolyte what he would ask you if given the chance, and it was this: How do you feel after all this time about the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in 2009, when you were denied three clear penalties by ref Tom Henning Ovrebo?

How do I feel about that? Obviously better now because then we won the Champions League after. But maybe if we hadn’t, it would be more difficult. The only thing I know is that yes, people make mistakes, referees can make mistakes, but when they are so obvious, there’s a time where video should influence the game. Because the game now is too important, for the players, for the team, for everyone, the game is, there’s so much…you can lose too much because of one decision. A bad decision but a human decision, so I think with time, I think video is going to be slowly, slowly very vital for the future of football. And you won’t lose time for the game, you will lose like two seconds. Yes or no – penalty or no penalty. But only for specific things like handballs or if the ball crosses the line.

But I also think, I always say that – that it was not our time. We had the best team, at that time one of the best teams I’ve ever played in at Chelsea, in the eight years I was there that team who lost against Barcelona was one of the best I played in.

Will van de Wiel is a producer, writer and editor whose work can regularly be found in The Green Soccer Journal.
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