Thursday August 20th, 2009

Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba already has two goals after the first two games of the English Premier League season with Chelsea (2-0). One of the game's most feared strikers, Drogba, 31, sat down with me in Baltimore recently to talk about Chelsea, next year's World Cup and what it takes to adjust to so many new managers in a short time. Here's an edited version of our conversation:

SI.com: First off, congratulations on signing your new contract with Chelsea. It appears that you really want to be at Chelsea then, right?

Drogba: Of course. For me that's a very good thing, because I said a few months ago that I wanted to stay here and keep playing for Chelsea.

SI.com: You have another new manager. How would you describe how your interactions with Carlo Ancelotti have gone so far?

Drogba: It's a bit too early to speak about it. But so far he has been normal. He's trying to make us work out, and we understand what he wants. So it's good. We're looking forward to starting the season by winning some games.

SI.com: Do you have a sense of what Ancelotti's expectations are from you?

Drogba: The expectations are always the same: Score goals. So there's nothing new. I still have to do the same job. I want to score goals and help my team win games.

SI.com: How does the process work when you have a new manager come in? It's happened a few times now. From your perspective as a player, how do you make that adjustment?

Drogba: When you play for a big team like Chelsea, you know that there's a possibility to change managers. So when you're a top player you need to be able to adapt to a new system or to the new manager. It's not easy, but I think now we're used to it, so it's not a big deal. In football, you don't have 10,000 different tactics, so you know more or less how to adapt to a system.

SI.com: How would you describe last season? You were a very big part of Chelsea's Champions League run and the team turning around and playing quite well.

Drogba: I think we had a very good start, and then in November or December we started to draw a lot of games, and we lost the first place of the league. And when Guus Hiddink came, he tried to give us the confidence back to win some games. And believing in our qualities, we started to win against the teams that were supposed to beat us, like Juventus. It gave us a lot of confidence, a big boost. That's when we started to win. When you're in the winning process, everything comes more easily.

SI.com: There was a point in time toward the end of Champions League when I thought Chelsea might win the trophy. Did you feel that way? And how much motivation is there to win this year in Champions League as a result?

Drogba: We felt really strong. We know the team is strong. We know we can beat any team, because we have the strength and the qualities to play big games. We just need to be a bit more lucky sometimes to go to a final or to win a final. We know the quality is there, so I hope one day we will get there.

SI.com: Looking ahead to this Premier League season, how do you see it playing out?

Drogba: The rivals are the same ones. But the teams like from the fourth to the end of the league are improving. They're buying better players, so the league is becoming more competitive now, so it's still going to be difficult. Even more difficult than the last three, four or five years. So you have to be aware of that and do everything you need to do in the league. Because now it has been three years without lifting this cup. That's a long time.

SI.com: How do you feel about Ivory Coast and the World Cup qualifying process?

Drogba: We are in a very good position. In the first three games we won them all, so we're now top of the group three points in front of Burkina Faso, and we have to play them at home in September. And also play Guinea at home and go to Malawi. So we're in a good position, and I hope we'll qualify for this World Cup, the first one in Africa.

SI.com: A lot of times, it seems like the host continent or host country does well in the World Cup. Is there a chance for an African team to make a deep run and challenge to win this World Cup in South Africa?

Drogba: I think so. I think so. You saw South Africa did well in the Confederations Cup. Just because they were hosting the event, it gives you a boost. You really want to perform in front of your people. And I think any African team will get a chance to go far and will get the support of the other African countries. I hope it's going to be Ivory Coast!

SI.com: With every player I'm speaking to, I'm asking: What is your favorite moment, if you could pick one moment as a player, from the World Cup?

Drogba: I would say the game against Argentina, which was the first of Ivory Coast's history. To be the captain of the team and to score the first goal of the Ivory Coast in the World Cup was something big, even if we lost. It's something you remember after the game.

SI.com: I assume you're also a fan of soccer and have watched the World Cup for years. Watching the World Cup in your life, what is your favorite moment?

Drogba: There's two for me. When France lifted the World Cup in 1998 in France, and the first World Cup I was able to see in '86 when Diego Maradona won it. That was when I started to get into football, so it was a big moment for me.

SI.com: How have you found your trip to America?

Drogba: Very interesting. This is not the first time that we come here, so we have a chance to compare the previous years when we came here to this one. And there is a big change. We can see that. The stadiums are full, and I think people are very interested in football. It's developing a lot. We played in Seattle five years ago in front of around 25,000 people, and [against MLS' Sounders in July] it was crazy. So it's good. This is also because David Beckham came here, and he's popular and meant a lot for football in the U.S. There were big players like Pelé and Franz Beckenbauer who came here before, but Beckham did a fantastic job here. So it's nice.

SI.com: I know Beckham has had his ups and downs in America. He is very popular as a celebrity here. On the field his team has not won very often, and he's had some rough interactions with some L.A. fans. Does that have any influence on other top players either wanting or not wanting to come play in America in the future?

Drogba: Maybe his team hasn't won something big so far. But in football, you play with 11 players. So it's difficult for a player to come and make a difference only on his own. He went there I think to help American soccer to develop and to be opened to the European public as well. So I think for this, even if he's famous in Hollywood, it doesn't matter. The most important thing that he came there for is the football, and he has done a lot. Now the players in Europe have the desire sometimes to say I want to go play in America because David went there. He's an example.

SI.com: I'm sure you get asked this a lot: Is playing in America something you'd consider someday?

Drogba: Why not? Why not? But I don't know. It's something you need to sit down and think about. It has to also be a life project. So I'd have to think about it.

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