Interview by Bruno Pisano
Didier Drogba, the hero of Chelsea's Champions League final win over Bayern Munich, is one of 55 soccer superstars featured in Bruno Pisano's book, "My Son The Soccer Player: The Secrets of the World's Greatest Players as Told by Their Parents." Didier, the oldest of seven children, was born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city. At age 5 his parents sent him to France to give him “a real chance to succeed in life” and he lived with his uncle, Michel Goba, a pro soccer player. Homesick, he returned to Abidjan three years later and played daily soccer in a parking lot with friends. After both his parents lost their jobs, he returned to France at age 11 and two years later his parents joined him. In this excerpt, Pisano spoke with Albert Drogba about his son's early years.
BRUNO PISANO: How old was Didier when he first started kicking the ball?
ALBERT DROGBA: Didier was about 5 years old when he started playing soccer.
BP: When did you start to think that he had the potential to become a professional player?
ALBERT DROGBA: We always knew he was a good player, but at the age of 13 or 14 we began to realize that he could make it as a professional.
BP: What were the obstacles he faced in the beginning of his career?
ALBERT DROGBA: It wasn’t easy in the beginning because Didier suffered from many injuries, and that could have discouraged him from continuing. It wasn’t easy for Didier at all.
BP: How did he handle fame?
ALBERT DROGBA: He is a humble man -- like his dad -- so he managed to stay simple and to keep his feet on the ground.
BP: When he got injured, what advice did you give him?
ALBERT DROGBA: He loved soccer so much that even when he was injured he’d keep on playing. He had good doctors and practiced whenever he could.
BP: At any time during his career, did he consider quitting and trying another profession?
ALBERT DROGBA: He never thought about it, even in tough times. He believed in himself always. With one of his early clubs, Le Mans, the coach didn’t really trust him or give him many opportunities to play, but Didier trained as has as he was able. Soccer is his passion.
BP: How did you motivate Didier to keep on working hard?
ALBERT DROGBA: Well, at first I wasn’t very happy about his choice to become a soccer player. Like most parents I was eager for my son to get a good education.
I told him he had to work hard at school to become a doctor or a lawyer – to get a degree and be able to make a good living.
After all, soccer was not a sure thing. At 13 or 14 with Le Mans we knew he was a talented player, but of course one injury can end an entire career and that’s what I was worried about.
But as time went on we began to see his potential flourish. When he joined Guingamp we knew he had something special. With his first European contract we knew that he’d have a great career.
When encouraging him I kept in mind my own experiences as an amateur player, and my own father’s as a professional, so I was confident that he could make it.
BP: What were the moments in his career that made you the proudest?
ALBERT DROGBA: In 2006 when he was so important in qualifying the Ivory Coast for the World Cup. He won the African Player of the Year award in 2006 as well – the first Ivorian to do so! In 2007 and 2010 he was the Premier League’s top scorer in England, and these kind of things always make me proud.
BP: Would you have been disappointed if he didn’t succeed as a soccer player?
ALBERT DROGBA: As the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome,” or to happiness. My goal was to have a happy son -- that’s all. Every parent hopes for his child to make a living, have a family, and above all to be happy.
BP: Do you think Didier’s talents were innate, or that he developed them through hard work?
ALBERT DROGBA: His talents were innate, no doubt about it. As a child the perfect present for Didier was anything to do with soccer. He just loved having a ball at his feet.
Take this as an example. When he was just 1 or 2 years old, he fell down some stairs. We were all shocked and worried about him, of course. Thankfully he was fine – but the reason that he fell was that he saw a soccer ball at the bottom of the stairs and wanted to go and get it! And he was only 1 or 2!
BP: What advice can you give a father so that his child might achieve similar successes to Didier?
ALBERT DROGBA: I must warn parents who are in a hurry to rush their sons into soccer. They have to be careful.
They only see the tip of the iceberg when they see a successful player like Didier. There’s so much work and luck involved in a successful player’s life.
First and foremost you need to send your child to school to get him an education, and don’t let soccer get in the way of school. It’s tough, for sure, but it’s possible to study hard and practice hard at the same time. It’s so important to do this because soccer only works out for some people, and everyone needs an education to fall back on.
(For more on “My Son The Soccer Player: The Secrets of the World’s Greatest Players as Told by Their Parents” by Bruno Pisano, go to mysonthesoccerplayer.com/. The author donates $1 for every book sold to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.)