Sissoko, a young globetrotter
It is a warm, sunny October Sunday in Turin. The temperature is as high as 20 degrees and the city has a sleepy air about it. A few kilometres away from the Piedmont capital, at their training ground in Vinovo, the Juventus players are going through their traditional post-match day routine. A relaxed-looking Mohamed Sissoko, who joined La Vecchia Signora in January 2008, takes time out to give FIFA.com an exclusive interview.
Despite only being 23 years old, Sissoko is already a footballing globetrotter. Since leaving Auxerre's youth set-up in 2003, the dual citizen of France and Mali has already had a taste of three of Europe's top leagues.
The player from the Seine-Maritime area in the north of France had barely reached adulthood when left home and took his first hesitant steps abroad, to Valencia. "," he explained. "But I managed not to get too overwhelmed - Valencia represented a good opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands."
"My team-mates at the time helped me to fit in really quickly and my family made sure that I kept my feet on the ground." Indeed, it only took him two seasons to open his account in terms of silverware, seizing winners' medals from the Spanish La Liga, UEFA Cup and European Super Cup.
Even though he felt at home in Spain, when Liverpool came knocking in 2005, the Mali international decided to try his luck in the Premier League, "where it's a lot more physical and intense than La Liga, and technically on a higher level". It was also the second time that he had signed for Rafa Benitez, the man who had originally tempted him away from Burgundy to join Valencia.
In Sissoko's eyes, Benitez is "a special kind of coach and a father-figure for me - I have a great deal of respect for him". The trophy cabinet was again well stocked, this time with another European Super Cup, an FA Cup and a Community Shield triumph.
After three seasons with the Reds, Sissoko again decided to follow a new career path, which this time took him to Italy and Juventus: "." This season, he has already played seven matches in Serie A and five in the UEFA Champions League, fulfilling his desire to "play as much as possible and win as much as possible".
Heart belongs to Mali
On the international front, 'Momo', as his team-mates call him in Turin, had no hesitation in choosing to play for Mali. "I was born in France, I grew up in France but my parents are from Mali. I followed my heart and the people of Mali show their gratitude to me in return whenever I go home."
He won his first cap in November 2003 in Morocco, and has won another 14 since for the Eagles, who are currently in the running to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Despite the fact that the team gave a good account of themselves in Group 10, and managed to qualify for the third and final round with their last match, Sissoko admits things did not always gone to plan. "When we lost away to Congo in the penultimate game, doubts started to creep in. There was a lot of pressure on us when we went to play Chad as we knew we had to win."
A month after that loss in Congo, however, tears of sorrow had turned to joy. "The fans who had gone through all the ups and downs of our past performances were really able to let themselves go and revel in the fact that we had managed to qualify for the final round."
Before the draw was made, Sissoko told FIFA.com he was hoping to "avoid the bigger African nations and in particular Nigeria". His wish was granted: group rivals Ghana, Benin and Sudan are theoretically all beatable, placing the fate of Sissoko and Co very much in their own hands.