There are two people I have to thank before posting this. First of all, Pascal Dupasquier, who did the original interview for Swiss daily La Liberté; secondly, Boz from the arseblog forums for the translation.
It’s a really interesting piece in which Djourou reveals that he himself chose to go out on loan, which clubs he turned down to join Birmingham, and the role he envisages himself playing for Arsenal in the future.
One final note: ‘Number 6′ is terminology for a holding midfielder, in the same way as ‘Number 10′ is a byword for an attacking playmaker.
THE SHERIFF OF BIRMINGHAM
Johan Djourou : On loan from Arsenal the man from Geneva is doing a six month stint at the newly promoted Premier League side. His objective? To play in the number 6 shirt.
Johan Djourou has temporarily swapped his number 20 Arsenal shirt for the 16 of the Blues of Birmingham. Blocked by Kolo Touré and William Gallas at Ashburton Grove, the twenty year old defender has made a wise choice: to play rather than to wear out his shorts on the bench. It’s a decision he made alone, he stresses: “Arsenal weren’t very keen to let me go. It was my choice,” he confirms, satisfied to have received the permission of the “master” Arsène Wenger. “It’s fantastic for me that he allowed to do this six-month loan,” he continues.
The Genevan is held in high esteem. He knows that the french coach admires him. So it’s not surprising that it was difficult to let him go. The Gunners are firing on all cylinders (Premier League, Cup, League Cup, Champions League) and Arsène will need all his fire power. So Djourou could have expected some playing time. And didn’t he play 30 matches in all competitions last season? “That was already a good percentage,” smiles the ex-Carouge player. “But for my development it was better that I was in a club which played me regularly. With Gallas (ed’s note: currently injured) and Touré, it was going to be difficult to get games at Arsenal”. It is also true that his position degraded somewhat in the second half of last season as he only played five times.
Loads of offers
As soon as it was known that he wanted to leave the offers poured in: “Sunderland, Newcastle, Manchester City, Zurich, Hertha Berlin and even Lille and Toulouse were interested”, lists the defender. “So I really had a choice,” he laughs, before adding, “I wanted to stay in England because that’s where I feel well. France? It didn’t interest me at all”. It was the newly promoted side Birmingham, under the legendary Steve Bruce who finally won out. “They’re a team that likes to play football. What’s more, the coach is a legend in Manchester and his speech really convinced me,” said Djourou. “He said he wanted me. That was an important element in my choice.”
The loan at St. Andrews is scheduled to last six months and is not a backwards step. Far from it. “There is absolutely nothing negative about it,” reassures international coach Köbi Kuhn. Djourou adds “Arsenal is my club and I’m under contract until 2012. It’s certain that I will return to play there.” In the meantime, Johan Djourou has made a good start at Birmingham. His evaluation? Quite simply, excellent: four matches and 360 minutes playing time. As his star continues to rise, Djourou is fast becoming ‘The Sheriff of Birmingham’.
This is good news for Steve Bruce. With four points from five games and ranked 16th out of 20, his team has had a difficult start to the season. “It’s true that they trust me, and it’s good to feel that,” smiles Djourou, for whom everything happened very quickly. His loan was confirmed on August 7th. Five days later he was wearing the blue against another team of Blues – Chelsea (3-2 loss). The 15th he played against Sunderland (2-2). “I had two good matches to start with,” he confides.
On the 25th he was at it again in a 2-1 win over Derby County. Then he moved up a rank at Middlesbrough (2-0 loss) where, for the first time, he played in midfield: his secret dream…
The Middle Empire
Johoan Djourou doesn’t hide it: his dream is the midfield. “Going to Birmingham allows me to play in the number 6 shirt.” Number six – the cat is out of the bag. The defender wants to evolve. “In my head I’m a midfielder,” he blasts. “I had to learn to be flexible. It’s in my interest as it opens other doors.” There is no doubt, the Swiss international is aiming in the medium term for a midfield berth in the red shirt and white cross of the national team. But with so many rising young wolves like Inler, Dzemaili or Gelson, the position is hotly-contested. “As in all good teams there is competition for places; that’s not new,” he recognises without losing his calm.
This is where the Birmingham option is important. During Saturdays game at Middlesbrough Djourou played in midfield. “Steve Bruce has always said he would play me there. It’s what influenced me to come here,” he makes clear. “I started playing in defence because they have injuries there, but it’s at number 6 that I will continue the season. If I can play all the games in midfield for Birmingham then maybe Köbi Kuhn will take notice.” The national coach had tried a short experiment in March against Colombia (3-1 loss) during the training camp in Miami. “I only played 20 minutes, and the team wasn’t playing well,” regrets Djourou. “I would like to have an opportunity over a longer period.”
Just when you thought we couldn’t have less centre-backs or more central-midfielders, this happens.