Didier Drogba The Didier Drogba Foundation
Text: Gill Parker/Images: Didier Drogba

Scoring for a better education in Africa

International football star Didier Drogba explains what it takes to be top of your game and how healthcare and education are vital for Africa’s stability and prosperity.

“The more you give people the chance to access education, the more chance you have to change mentalities of a country and the continent.”

Your success in football is legendary. You’ve been one of the top scorers at Chelsea, the top scorer in the Ivory Coast, where you’re from, and African footballer of the year twice. What is it about football that makes you want to succeed?

Football is my passion. I’m lucky that I have this sort of job and my passion is my job. Every time I play I think it’s more like having fun and it helps you succeed because you feel lucky and you always feel positive. There’s a competitive part inside me too, so when you win once you always want to win more.

Why football? Why choose football as a career?

The first time I wanted to be a footballer was when I saw Maradona play on TV and I was like wow, he is a genius and I want to be like him, play like him. So I used to play only with my left foot sometimes, play in the street with my friends and act as if I were Maradona.

You lived for some time when you were small with your uncle in France who was also a professional footballer. How did he influence your careerin football?

He was a big part of me becoming a football player. I went to his training sessions and I went to his games, I saw the passion around the game. The everyday routine for me was amazing in the sense of how he got ready for the game, trained hard and when they played, you could see the result of the training. Training is the most important part.

You started your professional career at Le Mans in France – how did being professional change things for you? And did you realize at the time just what a big step this could be?

When I was at Le Mans I was very happy to be in a professional team but it was very difficult because I was in a team before where you only trained perhaps once, sometimes twice a week. But at Le Mans I had to train every day and my body wasn’t used to it, so I got a lot of injuries. It was a shock to my body. It wasn’t easy but I think that’s where I got my strength and desire to try again even if you lose.

In 2004 you moved to Chelsea, at a record price and as the highest-paid Ivorian player ever – looking back, what was it like to be so highly valued?

For me it didn’t change anything because I still remembered where I came from and two years before that I was a substitute in a second division team. It was nice because I was in a big club like Chelsea, but at first it didn’t feel like the move of my life or of my career, as I thought I was going to stay in Marseilles. I wasn’t even thinking of being the highest paid, because I never compare myself to people and I was more worried about being able to adapt to a different football club, language and culture. But of course a few years later I realized it was the move of my life and of my career.

You were now on a very international circuit – what was it like to be at this international level in your career?

When you’re a kid you dream of being famous, scoring goals, scoring the winning goal. But being at a club like Chelsea every day you come out and you score a goal. So it’s nice but it’s also giving you different responsibilities and priorities, and you have to adapt to this new life.

What did you enjoy most about playing at Chelsea?

I think the relationships I created with the players and that Chelsea is a club where there are so many different nationalities. So you learn about one country and another, how these guys react, and it’s good, because I think that’s what life is about, to share knowledge and culture with someone else.

You went on to have a highly successful career at Chelsea becoming the first African to score 100 premier league goals. What helped you be so successful at this time?

Working hard, working hard. Every time I scored a goal, the next game I would try to score two. I would look at the replay of the game and try to understand and analyse a lot, a lot, to improve and become one of the best.

You also led the Ivorian national team to the World Cup. What did that mean to you?

It was an amazing achievement. When I was young and saw Maradona win the world cup, my dream was to do the same. And then 20 years later you qualify for the world cup, it’s emotional. I couldn’t believe it.

You spent some time in Switzerland training for the World Cup and even played some friendlies with local teams. Why Switzerland and how did that help?

The weather was similar to the weather in Germany and it is close to Germany so that’s why we chose the camp there. I know Switzerland and it’s peaceful, they have great facilities, and it’s always a good experience there. I always love it.

You’re now at Montreal, how do you see your future in football?

I feel that I will stop playing soon. But I want to find a way to give something back to football because this sport has given me so much, so many emotions.

You grew up between Africa and France, what do you remember of the Africa of your childhood?

Playing in the street without shoes, big families, a giving community. Just sharing everything you’ve got and being happy.

“We are building a clinic and access to medicine at a very low cost.”

What do you feel has changed the most since then and which development has been particularly surprising to you?

Technology and the fact that people are now trying to build their own brands and not having to rely on European or American brands, creating something new, different and something made in Africa.

You set up your own foundation in 2007 in the Ivory Coast, what inspired you to do this?

I want my country and my continent to change and to be seen in a different way. I want Africa to be known not just because it has a football player or a singer but because there are also scientists, important doctors, important leaders. That’s why I think we have to give access to education and healthcare. The more you give people the chance to access education, the more chance you have to change mentalities of a country and the continent.

What type of projects are you invested in and why?

We are building a clinic and access to medicine at a very low cost. The mobile clinic is the most important because not everyone is based in the capital so it’s difficult for people to get to a clinic. You have to walk hours and hours or take a bus, and so now we’ll be able to go to people and to treat people. But really what I want to do is to build schools for education. I want to change the way people think in Africa. I really think this is why there are so many wars in Africa, because people go to a civil war not even knowing why they are fighting. But with education you can decide what is good for you, what is good for your country, so I think education is highly important.

What are you most proud of in the last eight years of working through the foundation?

What I’m most proud of is the way the community reacted to my demands when I went to ask them to support me. Their answer was amazing and they gave me the strength to go to a different level and do this sort of work. They challenge me in the sense that I am responsible for their donations, so I need to create something good and something great.

Why do you feel it’s important to give back to your own community in the Ivory Coast?

That’s the way I grew up, in my family’s house, with my uncle, my aunties, my cousins. You live with everyone and you have to share.

You’ve lived and worked all over the world. What are the differences between doing business in Africa and the way it is done in other countries?

I think right now, there are more possibilities in Africa – people are so slow, but we are going to get there, I think.

How do you see the future of Africa and your own country, the Ivory Coast?

I hope Africa will be done with all these wars and famine. This is really killing a lot of our people. But for my country I am very happy because the economy is growing. I’m very happy that the last elections took place without trouble. I think this is a good sign and this is the best way to become one of the most important countries in Africa. I think it is good for the country to go that way.

Didier Drogba

left Africa as a young boy, to become one of the world’s most famous and most successful footballers. He’s played for Chelsea, taken his own national team to the World Cup and was named African footballer of the year twice. He has also set up a Foundation in his native Ivory Coast, with the aim to bring healthcare and education to his country. He is now based in Montreal playing major league soccer for Montreal Impact.

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