At the age of 23, Salomon Kalou has everything a young footballer needs to succeed in the game: talent, a modest outlook on life and experience gained from playing at two of Europe's biggest clubs. After starting out with Feyenoord and spending three years in the Eredivisie, the Ivorian moved to English giants Chelsea, where he has been honing the skills that made him Côte d'Ivoire's most impressive player at the recent Men's Olympic Football Tournament.
FIFA.com caught up with the forward after his Chinese adventure and asked him about his career to date and the objectives he hopes to achieve in the years to come.
FIFA.com: Salomon, you have become one of Ivorian football's young role models. Can you tell us what attracted you to the game when you were growing up?
Salomon Kalou: In my country the only sport that everyone wants to play is football. That's what did it for me, that and the fact I always wanted to be like my brother Bonaventure. There were other players who inspired to me pursue a career in football, though, like France's Thierry Henry. I've always watched him, ever since he started at Monaco.
Have you ever had the chance to meet him?
Yes, I've seen him a couple of times. The first was in 2000 when he was at Arsenal. I went there for a friendly tournament with my team and it was just incredible to be close to him and watch him train. I used to dream of being like him back then.
So you know how a lot of fans must feel when they get close to you.
Of course. When you're a footballer you become a role model, and things are going so well enough for me right now that a lot of kids back in Côte d'Ivoire want to emulate me. But I'm not getting carried away. I've still got a long way to go and I'm still learning. I want to carry on developing and become a real star.
While a lot of good things have happened to you in your career, you failed in your application for a Dutch passport and missed out on the chance to play for the Netherlands. What do you remember about that?
It was a couple of years ago. I was playing in Holland and I wasn't part of the Côte d'Ivoire team at the time. I was asked to play for the Dutch national team but I couldn't get the passport. I tried but it just didn't work and it attracted so much publicity it became more of a political than a football thing.
Was it a difficult time for you?
It was tough. When you're a young player it's always better to concentrate on football and not on other things. I'd just started out, I was playing well and I didn't need that kind of publicity to further my career. It was also difficult for my family back home in Côte d'Ivoire, because people didn't understand that I wanted a Dutch passport. With the Netherlands I had a 50 per cent chance of playing and trying to win the World Cup, whereas the chances of doing that with Côte d'Ivoire were much lower. It was a decision that had everything to do with my career and nothing at all with my nationality.
What do you think about all that now?
Looking back I can honestly say I'm happy it didn't work out. Obviously it was my destiny to end up playing for Côte d'Ivoire.
And how does it feel when you pull the shirt on?
Fantastic. I've shown that I can play for my country and hold down a place at big clubs. Some people thought I wanted a Dutch passport just so I could get a move to a big team in England, but I showed that it wasn't down to that but to my talent. If you've got it and you can show it out on the pitch, then you can go as far as you want. I'm proud because even without that passport I'm managing to play for important clubs and take part in major tournaments like the Olympic Games.
Let's talk about the coaches you have worked under during your career. Which one has made the biggest impact on you?
The first coach I had was Ruud Gullit. He gave me the chance to play in the top flight and he used to say unexpected things to me like, ‘you'll achieve big things, you'll see'. I was just starting out and wasn't even thinking of going further. He gave me the confidence and the opportunity to mix it with the big names at the highest level. He made a huge impression on me but he wasn't the only one. I got good advice from (Jose) Mourinho and a few others too.
What can you tell us about Luiz Felipe Scolari?
With some coaches you can tell straight away that they're good, and that's what I felt about him. In the first training session I could see he was the right man for the Chelsea job. A lot of people feel we don't play attractively but we can change the way they think and play football that's nice to watch.
Talking of Chelsea, what do you remember about arriving at a club with so many star players?
On my first day here I took my camera with me to the training ground. I wanted a photo with every one of my new team-mates. It was a dream come true. I was worried I'd wake up and find out it had all been in my imagination. To see the likes of (Michael) Ballack and (Didier) Drogba was absolutely incredible. It's impossible not to be shy and feel really small.
Did they give you a warm welcome?
Absolutely. I knew immediately I could treat them as my equals and learn a lot from them. I'm very happy I took this step and I know it's really going to help me to become like them.
Have any of them surprised you in particular?
In my experience the best players are the ones who are the most down to earth and have their feet on the ground. They're all great guys at Chelsea and we have a fantastic time. (John) Terry is perhaps the best example of that because he's always cracking jokes. It surprised me a lot to begin with and it sometimes feels like we're kids on their way to school. I'm enjoying myself and doing something I'd dreamt about since I was a kid. I couldn't be happier.
So this is something you never imagined happening to you.
No, no (pauses). Not even in my wildest dreams did I picture something like this. Anything that happens to me from now on will be a bonus. The most important thing in fact is not getting there but staying there. I just hope I can do that.
What are your objectives for this season?
I want to be one of Chelsea's most important players, fulfil the expectations that people have of me and play a part in as many wins as possible. I'm going to have to work hard, score a lot of goals and help set more up, and I hope we can win all the competitions we're taking part in.
Do you follow the game a lot?
Yes, I like watching matches on TV so I can compare teams and players. I sit there and think about what I'd do in certain situations and how I could improve. Then I try and copy things I've seen in the players I like the most.
Are there any dreams you have yet to fulfil in football?
Of course there are. I want to carry on playing for big teams. I'm at Chelsea at the moment but I'd love to play in Spain one day. I love Spanish football because it's exciting to watch and play. One other dream of mine is to see an African team win the World Cup.
And your personal dreams?
I lead a wonderful life, I'm having fun and I'm doing what I want to be doing. I've also got the blessing of my family and the people of Côte d'Ivoire. But yes, I'd love to help bring about peace in my country and if I could do that through football, it would be just perfect.