Tuesday, September 8, 2009



>>Irrespective of the club you support, you will remember the contents of this article for sometime. Kalou - a good man indeed.


Chelsea star speaks of rags-to-riches tale in exclusive

A PAIR of decrepit, old football boots have pride of place in the Salomon Kalou family home.

They also have a special place in the Chelsea striker's heart - as the first gift he was ever given.

Kalou was 13 and growing up in poverty with his parents, eight sisters, two brothers and four cousins in a cramped house in the ramshackled Ivory Coast town of Oume.

He had never received a birthday present, nor one at Christmas. He was just grateful that his schoolteacher father could put food on the table and clothes on his back.

Mind you, he had to share his garments with his brothers and cousins and slept with them all on a mat on the concrete floor.

"It was tough growing up," he told me. "There were 17 of us living in the house. We shared a bedroom, but didn't have a bed.

"In Africa you just put a mat on the floor and you sleep on that. But there was no fighting on who would sleep where. When it came to bedtime everyone knew their position.

"And I knew mine - right at the back! However, that was a five-star hotel for us because there were others who lived in much poorer conditions.

"We had little money, but I was happy because I had a family who loved me. I had food to eat, clothes to wear, so, for me, it was the best life, even though it was a simple one.

"We didn't get any gifts. My parents couldn't afford any. Not for Christmas, nor birthday. In fact, I only started celebrating my birthday three years ago when I came to England. It was my elder brother who gave me my first ever present - a pair of football boots."

Bonaventure Kalou bought them after signing for Dutch side Feyenoord. Kalou produces a grin as wide as the Stamford Bridge goalmouth as he recalled: "They were my first football boots. I remember them to this day. They were black Lotto ones and I was overjoyed."

Unfortunately, the young Kalou was BANNED from wearing them. At the age of 12 he had been selected to play for the academy of one of the biggest club's in his homeland, ASEC Mimosas.

But all the kids there played barefoot. The academy supplied bibs and shorts but the youngsters had to wait until they were 14 for socks and sandals and another year before they were allowed to wear proper boots.

"When I showed the other kids my boots they were very jealous," said Kalou.

"But I wasn't allowed to play in them because none of the other kids had any. So the first time I played in a game wearing boots was when I was 15. And then I had to get used to playing in them because the feeling was so different."

He quickly got used to a lot of different feelings. Bus trips to play other teams in the Ivory Coast were soon replaced by aeroplane trips to Europe.

"When we played in a tournament in France we all had to wear boots," he said.

"It was the first time we had been on a plane. The next trip was to England, to Arsenal. I was 16. Arsene Wenger was the manager and we lost our first game 7-1 to an Arsenal under-17 team."

Gunners star Emmanuel Eboue and former skipper Kolo Toure were also with Kalou on that trip.

And it was on his visit to the club's training HQ at London Colney that Kalou knew he wanted to be a professional.

"I remember sneaking into the gym and peering through the window at Thierry Henry, watching him doing tricks with the ball.

"That is the moment when I really wanted to become a professional footballer. That was my dream. And when I signed for Chelsea in May, 2006 I thought about that amazing moment.

"Thierry is the player I have always admired. I watched him on TV in the 1998 World Cup and then to see him on the other side of the glass, to be so close to him, was a dream."

It was also a dream when Kalou received his first monthly wage packet from the academy - the princely sum of £2.50.

It was later doubled to a fiver but that was enough to treat his friends back home to free meals and drinks.

"Five pounds was a lot," he insisted. "I was 15. And with my money I used to take all my friends for something to eat and drink. It was my way of saying: 'We are together, I don't mind paying for everybody.

"I was also able to help at home. I could buy chicken so everyone could eat. I could buy clothes for everyone."

The Young African Player of the Year's wages may have increased by 900,000 PER CENT since he signed for Chelsea from Feyenoord.

But the generous 24-year-old is still giving large chunks of his money away.

He splashed out £45,000 to buy his mum a brand new BMW X5 and another £45,000 on an X6 for his dad.

He regularly sends money home to his family, who now live in a bigger five-bedroom house.

He is setting up the Salomon Kalou Foundation to raise money for the poor in Africa and is planning to distribute 1,000 sandals to the needy in his homeland. Other projects include opening a public football pitch in his name in Rotterdam next month and a similar one in the Ivory Coast in time for the World Cup finals.

He has donated money to the families of the victims of the Abidjan Stadium tragedy, in which 19 people died and more than 130 were injured when a wall collapsed during the Ivory Coast's 5-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Malawi five months ago.

And he has promised he and his Ivory Coast team-mates will also donate their bonuses if they qualify for the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Not your typical overpaid, overhyped, Premier League footballer, then.

"It is the way I have been raised," he insisted. "I shared my money when I was earning £5 a month and I am still doing it although I earn a lot more now!

"I am blessed. My goal is to give back to people who don't have anything, who need help. If I have two things I can give one away."

He doesn't drink or smoke. So he even gave away the bottle of champagne Prince Harry bought him at his 24th birthday party earlier this month.

"Playing for Chelsea I am living my dream," he said. "It is an opportunity to do something better with my life. Sometimes people say to me: 'Oh, you are too nice, giving your money away.' But that is the way I have been raised. My parents always told me to share what I have.

"Anytime mum needs anything, I make sure she has it. It can be £2, £20,000 or £50,000, I don't care. I make sure she receives it. I have sent as much as £50,000 in one go. If it wasn't for the money me and my brother send home my family would find it very hard.

"It's not an obligation. But you have to help your family and your cousins because it's part of our culture. It's how we have been raised and I am proud to do it, I love doing it. I am making a lot of money playing football in England, but some people are not so fortunate.

"It is my duty to help people. There are people back home who need me to be focused, to train hard, to play well every game. They depend on me.

"That is the responsibility I have on my shoulders - the standard of living back home is poor. People are happy just to be healthy and have food to eat. They are happy to wake up every day."

Tragically, the 19 who perished in the Abidjan Stadium were denied even that. Some of Kalou's friends were among the 130 injured.

That is why he is on a personal crusade to raise money for the families of the victims.

"Of course the money will never replace the loved ones people have lost," he said. "But it will show we miss them and we share in their loss. I had some friends who were injured but, thank God, they are alive.

"We have staged one charity match and I have already spoken to Didier Drogba, Kolo and my other Ivory Coast team-mates about donating our bonus if we qualify for the World Cup."

Barring an almighty mathematical hiccup, Kalou and Co will qualify if they beat Burkina Faso next Saturday.

He added: "I have met some of the families who lost someone in the tragedy. We were only told about it after the match. We were all shocked and I went to the hospital the following day. It was a very sad moment.

"Didier spoke on TV and we decided to do something to help the families. I hope to have the Salomon Kalou Foundation set up as a registered charity in time for the 2010 World Cup.

"And I will be giving away 1,000 pairs of sandals at the African Nations Cup in January. Not everyone in Africa can afford sandals, even though they only cost £3."

Kalou's lifestyle is in stark contrast to the glut of Premier League players who have been photographed drunk in nightclubs and who splash their cash on flash houses, fast cars, designer clothes and diamond-encrusted watches.

But he said: "I don't judge them. If that makes them feel good then it is up to them. It is important to enjoy yourself, but it is also important to share with others who are not as lucky as you.

"You must not abuse your position. Going out and getting drunk is not something I would ever do because it is not and never has been part of my life.

"It is important to be a decent person first and a footballer second. You should not take advantage of people just because you are a footballer."

He now has his own five-bedroom house near Chelsea's training ground in Cobham, Surrey, the car, the adulation of the fans and has just launched his very own Stay Fly clothing label.

But he didn't buy his first mobile phone until he signed for Feyenoord and he still sleeps on the floor when he goes back home.

"If I visit my grandparents I will sleep on a mat, no problem," he admitted.

For today's pampered millionaire football stars, that's a real wake-up call.




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