Phoenix Rising’s Didier Drogba sparked JJ Watt’s love for football, Chelsea

Phoenix Rising Football Club and Arizona Cardinals Football Club: two football clubs in the same state, in the same valley, but two very different sports.

At the heart of every club are the former PRFC player and current partner Didier Drogba and Cardinals defender JJ Watt.

And long before one of the two stars came to Arizona to continue his professional career, Watt fell in love with both the football game and Drogba’s former English Premier League club Chelsea FC because of the Ivorian.

“Playing FIFA at video games was my first real interaction,” Watt told NBC Sports’ Men in Blazers. “So we played and I chose Ivory Coast every time. I don’t know why, but I would choose Ivory Coast every time and obviously Drogba was the legend.

“So I was like, ‘Okay, who is Drogba playing for?’ And just started following Chelsea because Drogba was with Chelsea. All of a sudden they win the Champions League and the Premier League. I think it’s amazing – they are the best team ever. “

Drogba is one of the greatest footballers of all time – and certainly one of the best African players of all time – as the striker retired from his career with five top 10 finishes in Ballon d’Or from 2006 to 2012. In 2007 Drogba finished fourth behind Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. To put that in perspective, only Ronaldo and Messi won the world’s greatest footballer award from 2008 to 2017.

Watt wanted to make sure he saw his footballing idol play at Stamford Bridge before leaving Chelsea, where the Ivorian won four FA Cups, three league cups and the famous 88th equalizer in the 2012 Champions League final, which he would win. Minute, the London side won on penalties. Drogba also won four Premier League titles, the last of which was played in 2014/15 under then head coach Jose Mourinho, who is slated to become AS Roma Italy Serie A manager in 2021/22.

“It was the songs, the traditions – very different from an American stadium, very different from an American fan,” said Watt of his first experience in the Premier League at Drogba’s last game against Chelsea.

“No big video boards, no commerce, no cheerleaders. There’s no added thrill or anything. It was literally just about the game. “

The Ivorian continued to play for Turkish Super Lig club Galatasaray SK, which had a partnership agreement with Phoenix Rising through the PRFC governor and Istanbul-born Berke Bakay, and for MLS ‘Montreal Impact before ending his career in the valley .

Watt was also amazed at how integrated each club is into the structure of their respective community compared to professional sports teams here in the US.

“This is by far the coolest part of the Premier League,” said Watt. “It’s the neighborhoods, it’s the way they come together to create the songs and the banners and flags, the excursions. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, it’s hard for me to grasp.

“Because we say we love our teams and there are a lot of people who love their teams – face paint and everything. But it’s another level. Imagine if someone tried to move Everton from Liverpool to another city. We here do it all the time. We beat teams from city to city. That would never happen there. “

One of the biggest differences between a professional American sport and European football is the promotion and relegation of which the Cardinals defender is a fan. Watt is also optimistic about the future of the entire game of football in the US, as the country will host its second FIFA World Cup in 2026.

“The football profile in America and the skill and understanding of the fans will only add to this game,” he said. “And if we ever get relegation and promotion, who knows what might happen because this could be a mess.”

Perhaps the biggest name in US men’s football right now is 22-year-old Christian Pulisic, who is in his sophomore season with Watt’s beloved Chelsea. As a fellow athlete, Watt understands the injury battles and the time it takes to settle into a new team. But like every real Chelsea fan, he also wants his team to return to the top of the table and buy the best talent in the world.

“Okay, we’re done. Go on. Buy someone new. Let’s go, let’s get started, ”Watt joked about Timo Werner’s struggles in the first season at Chelsea. “Can we (Dortmund’s Erling) get Haaland? Somebody puts Haaland on the line. “

And if Watt’s love for Chelsea wasn’t enough, he’s married to the football game too – well. The three-time wife of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is Kealia Watt, a professional footballer who spent her college years in North Carolina (2010-13) before being moved to second place overall by NWSL team Houston Dash in 2014 and then after Chicago traded Red Stars in 2020.

Kealia Watt has represented the United States in both youth and senior teams, including beating Germany and winning the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. In fact, she set the record for fastest goal in one USWNT debut by scoring just 48 seconds after coming on as an 81st-minute substitute in a friendly against Switzerland in 2016.

Follow @ jwa1994

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