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FIFPro visited Didier Drogba, the captain of the national team of Ivory Coast, Champions League winner with Chelsea and honorary president of FIFPro Division Africa. Drogba talks with FIFPro about football in Ivory Coast and his new adventure in China.

 

Sunday, 9 September, morning. Abidjan is waking up, with a heavy head and a light heart, on the day following the Elephants’ 4-2 win over Senegal. The road to CAN 2013 (the African Cup of Nations) is opening up for them and their captain, Didier Drogba, after their unfortunate result in the previous final. He confesses to 'having slept little and rather badly'. Our conversation begins over a revivifying coffee and some Viennese pastries…

 

Tired?
'I had trouble getting to sleep.'

 

You were celebrating the victory, like all the other Ivorians…
'I took advantage of being back in the country to visit a few friends, as I like to do. I slept little and badly. As for the rest, this isn’t a success, but it’s a qualification we must hope to celebrate after the return match in Dakar, in a month’s time. We have taken one step, a big step, but only a step. The offensive potential of the Senegalese is enormous, so it’s better to be humble and cautious.'

 

The offensive potential of the Elephants isn’t bad either...
(Didier smiles.)

'At all, or nearly all levels, this game has done its bit to give an excellent image of African football.'

 

Ivory Coast and Senegal are moving in high circles…
'The other away matches and the surprises recorded here and there (the defeat of Cameroon in Cape Verde, of Morocco in Mozambique etc., Editor’s note) are also proof of this: it’s our whole continent that’s advancing, there are many countries making progress…'

 

And this obviously doesn’t displease you…
'On the contrary, totally. But there are still so many things to do, so many matches to be won, here in Africa. And not just on the field!'

 

Establishment of AFI: Kolo Touré, Aruna Dindane, Cyrille Domoraud and Didier Drogba

 

That’s behind your commitment to the Association of Ivorian Footballers (AFI), of which you were one of the founding members in June 2009.
'There are a certain number of us, definitely, who want things to develop in the right direction for those of our brothers who have stayed in the home country. But the AFI is already ancient history…'

 

Which means?
'It’s a business that’s running, it’s an association in working order, led by Cyrille Domoraud, who wore the national team captain’s armband before me. I know the constant progress and the advances made to defend the rights and interests of the professional footballers who play here, in Ivory Coast. And although I haven’t yet had the time, or the luck rather, to visit the association offices in Abidjan, Kolo Touré has told me about his visit, and during the training session before our confrontation with Senegal, we were able to discuss this subject, which we take particularly to heart. But, as on the field, while the initial victories are a source of motivation, they are only a beginning. There too, we have to continue the struggle, confirm things. There are so many other victories to be won…'

 

You also keep yourself regularly informed of the work of FIFPro Division Africa…
(Didier interrupts.)

'... All the more so because I’m the honorary president, and I take my role very seriously! It’s all of Africa that has to forge ahead. Just because I will be playing in China from now on doesn’t mean I’m going to put a stop to my commitments to my country and to our continent.'

 

China, that’s a…
(Didier interrupts again.)

'… A new adventure, made of discoveries. I’m learning every day. We aren’t the first foreign players to try our luck, but we can still consider ourselves to be pioneers today. Developments there are considerable, whether in the approach, the structures, the means, or the recruitment. Chinese football today is out of all proportion to what others must have seen a decade ago. Chinese society is in perpetual movement, and football is following. Like everywhere else in the world!'

 

 

The passion for football there is real?
'There’s nothing virtual about it. The stadiums are full, the clubs are well structured. The Chinese now have to acquire the football culture, and everyone knows this can’t be done in a day. Some people In the Middle Kingdom today think just putting eleven players on the field is enough to win the game. It’s up to us, foreign players and trainers, to teach them what professional football is all about, what needs to be invested, and not just finance. We have to share our experience with them… The positive point is that they want to learn. They’re willing to listen!'

 

There’s also a lot of talk about money…
'As always. Many people laughed when they realized I was really committed to China. But the reason isn’t just financial, even though I am a professional footballer. There is a real sporting bet in the most heavily populated country on the planet, which is just asking to be fully opened up to football.'

 

Which is where your pioneering role comes in…
'I’m going to tell you something in confidence: before leaving China, I want to carry off the Asian Champions League Cup with Shanghai Shenhua, my new club. I want to leave a marker behind me. Of course, that Cup doesn’t have the renown of the Champions League we gained a few months ago with Chelsea, but perhaps it will have one day. The Asians are working on it. And the idea of inscribing my name on the list of winners of a supreme event on two different continents suits me perfectly…'

 

You’re forgetting the CAN, which would make a great hat trick, and a third continent…
'I’ll never forget either Africa or my country. But first of all, let me remind you, we have a qualification to obtain in Dakar in mid-October…'

 

 

 

Interview by Stéphane Saint-Raymond