CINCINNATI, Ohio -- On the field, Cincinnati Bengals All-pro wide receiver Chad Johnson is known for his flamboyant style and touchdown receptions. Off the field however, he's a huge soccer fan and took the time recently to speak with ESPNsoccernet about his passion for the game.
ESPNsoccernet: What's your connection to soccer and tell us why you have an affinity for the game?
CJ: Since I was little I loved it. Of course, as I was growing up in Florida, in Miami, you play as many sports as possible to develop the skills as a little kid. As you get older, you see, well really your parents see what you play or adjusted to the best. It was soccer and football that I stuck with as I went through junior high. Once I got to high school, it came to a point where I had to choose one which best fit me to make it to the next level. I went with football, but soccer was always my first love.
ESPNsoccernet: Was it hard for you to give up soccer?
CJ: Yeah it was, but I mean it was common sense, it wasn't as big as it needed to be for me to get where I wanted to get. I probably would have had to move across the States or outside the country and I didn't have the means to at the time.
ESPNsoccernet: What position did you play? And which current player were you stylistically reminiscent of?
CJ: Forward. And [Didier] Drogba.
|Ocho Cinco talks soccer|
ESPNsoccernet: Do you still watch a lot of soccer?
CJ: Yeah a little bit, whenever I have time. Whatever comes on the channels that I do have at home and when I'm able to watch it.
ESPNsoccernet: Which team do you follow?
CJ: Favorite team? Out of everybody? My favorite club team -- probably Arsenal.
ESPNsoccernet: Do you have a favorite player?
CJ: Thierry Henry, [laughs] of course.
ESPNsoccernet: You went to London recently to visit Thierry Henry. Did you train with Arsenal?
CJ: Nah, I just watched a couple of games, one was a Champions League game so that was interesting. I hung out with Thierry and also Ashley [Cole] from Chelsea a little.
ESPNsoccernet: Those guys get treated like rock stars over there. Did anyone recognize you?
CJ: Yeah they did, at the Arsenal versus Reading game, the people in the box, they knew who I was.
ESPNsoccernet: What's your relationship with Thierry Henry, how did the two of you meet?
CJ: We met last year, sometime in September. We're both fellow people of Reebok and [the company] hooked us up. He supported me all throughout the season and I always promised him I would come out to London and watch him play when I got a chance, so I got the chance and went down to see him.
ESPNsoccernet: Does that mean we'll be seeing Thierry at a Bengals game this year?
CJ: You know what? He said he is when he has time, he said he's gonna get here.
ESPNsoccernet: Henry's one of the fastest soccer players in the world -- reputedly a world-class sprinter. Who would win a race between the two of you?
CJ: [Laughs] I'd win.
ESPNsoccernet: Were you surprised at the U.S.' peformance in last year's World Cup? Did you have higher expectations for the squad?
CJ: I did. Yeah I did. They played well, unfortunately they didn't make it far, but they played well.
ESPNsoccernet: Which U.S. player stands out for you and impresses you on the field?
CJ: [Landon] Donovan, maybe.
ESPNsoccernet: Have you followed MLS much in the past?
CJ: No, not really. It's a different kind of game watching MLS and European soccer.
ESPNsoccernet: Your impressions of David Beckham signing? How much of an impact do you think he'll make?
CJ: It's good for MLS, he'll fill the seats up and bring a different type of excitement to the game.
ESPNsoccernet: Are you planning to watch Beckham play?
CJ: If I get the chance, if my schedule is free, I would like to see him.
ESPNsoccernet: You filmed a Super Bowl commercial with Beckham earlier this year, did you get a chance to speak with him much?
CJ: I never did get to meet him, they filmed us separately.
ESPNsoccernet: Who else on the Bengals is a fan of soccer?
CJ: I think I'm the biggest fan -- the biggest fan of it -- I mean I literally love it, watch it continuously seven days a week. But some of the coaches also follow it, their kids are into it a lot.
ESPNsoccernet: Rumor has it that you drove Coach Lewis crazy juggling a soccer ball during practice?
CJ: [Laughs] Yeah that's the way I warm up, before games, during the season, in practice, in between drills, in between practice I use the ball, just juggling the ball all day.
ESPNsoccernet: Presumably you're the best soccer player on the Bengals, who else has some skills?
CJ: T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] ... he tries [laughs].
ESPNsoccernet: Have you come across any other pro athletes in other sports who follow soccer like you?
CJ: I heard Steve Nash [Phoenix Suns] plays, as far as football players, most of the kickers in the NFL are good.
ESPNsoccernet: You also recently visited Kenya to undertake some goodwill work. Can you tell us about that?
CJ: It was interesting. It was a very different experience out there man, they love soccer out there. I went to visit a school and they were playing soccer with a bunch of tape all rolled and bundled together. The following day we went back with some soccer balls and they went crazy. That was a nice feeling seeing the kids so happy about that.
ESPNsoccernet: The chieftain of the local village said he'd build you a mud hut if you went back there. Are you planning to visit again?
CJ: Yeah -- I think I might try to do it sometime in July before we come back to training [camp]. It'd be a different experience to try living their way, no electricity, no cell phone, no nothing, so I might try to do that.
ESPNsoccernet: Can you envision a future where the U.S. wins the World Cup one day?
CJ: Yeah, I think so.
ESPNsoccernet: What do you think it's going to take for soccer to get more mainstream here and considered one of the "big sports" in the U.S.?
CJ: I think it's going to need more of the bigger players from Europe to come and play here. I think it would get more interesting and also have some of the teams from out there come and play here more often.
Jen Chang is the U.S. editor for ESPNsoccernet and also writes a blog Armchair Musings. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.