From his very first breath of life at the Marcory Maternity Hospital in Abidjan (Ivory Coast), on January the 18th 1987 at 14:15, Johan DJOUROU, from his original Christian name Johannes, already impressed his close ones by his rather large build (measuring 51cm and weighing in at 3.9kg and then, 19 years later, 1m91 and 85kg). It did not take long before he discovered his passion for football.
Less than a year old, perched on the back of his mother Angeline, he “pinches” a ball in a supermarket without anyone noticing, except for his mother! His father, Joachim, decides perhaps it would be a good idea to buy him one. It is for a good cause, because later on, he chases it on all fours
At only 17 and a half months old, his father takes a holiday with Johan to Switzerland with his mother’s consent. From his arrival in Geneva, on the 25th of June 1988, Danièle (his father’s wife at the time) takes him under her wing and cherishes him as though he were her own son. She is the one who takes him to park in Onex to play... football! At the age of 4 years old, Johan comes through the separation of Danièle and Joachim unscathed and moves to Chêne-Bourg with Danièle whom he now loves and considers to be his new mother. Naturally, two years later she adopts Johan, giving him Swiss nationality. Johan is then signed up at FC Champel (1st year of football ‘93’) and later starts his “real” sporting career at the age of 8 years old at Etoile Carouge.
But he does not simply opt for one sport! The adopted “Genevois” also takes part in skiing, tennis, basketball and mountain biking, always with disconcerting success. During his matches with the Geneva team, the Swiss Federation decide to integrate Johan in their training programme at Payerne from August 2000 to June 2002 (the 1st centre created by the ASF in Switzerland), where he continues his schooling and training for two years. (He weaves a network of good contacts around him, most notably of which are his host family, the Jaggi family and the Scarpino family who handled his stewardship. His talent on the pitch did not go unseen by Jérémie Tusiama (previous junior team trainer in Geneva), who managed to convince his colleague and football agent Costa BONATO to follow this young man. The name Johan Djourou is then presented to numerous footballing partners, in particular the two brothers, Alessandro and Flavio FERRARIA, who decide to follow him closely during some matches with junior Swiss national team. Impressed with what they see, they then speak to a friend of theirs who is none other than a scout at Arsenal.
The London club are the only ones to give him a chance, the other interested European teams having abandoned the case! “That’s football…”, his agent admits perplexed.
After completing a week of trials in October 2002, we have seen in brief, how a young trainee at Etoile Carouge leaps up the football ladder in a single bound to join Arsenal football club! Michel Pont, the sporting director of Etoile Carouge at the time, could never have believed in his wildest dreams that three years after his discussions with the English outfit, he would be meeting Johan again in the national team.
Only this time as the assistant manager to Köbi Kuhn and Johan revealed to the general public his capacity as an intransigent defender. Today, despite his dazzling rise to the first teams of Arsenal and the Swiss national team, Johan remains strongly attached to his family roots. Thus, as soon as he is able to return to Switzerland, the youngster always sleeps at his mother’s house who has kept his room how it was when he first started off. He always takes the opportunity to visit his father, who now lives with his new wife Monique.
They have three children; a younger brother who also plays football (Olivier) and two younger sisters (Diana and Anémone). The evenings are always fun and animated thanks to “Mémé Madeleine” (Monique’s mother) who cooks up some delicious dishes. None of this prevents Johan from keeping strong ties with his biological mother (Angeline), his older sister (Nadège) and his younger brother (Ladislas) who all remain in the Ivory Coast.
This sporting and family success sums up nicely the simplicity of the boy.