Burkina Faso's Jonathan Pitroipa On The Secret To His Success, Growing Up and the Kada School

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Jonathan Pitroipa was fortunate enough to have received formal training and education at the ‘Planete Champion’ academy in Ouagadougou before it was closed down. In the third part of our interview, the Burkina Faso and Rennes winger talks about the time he spent at there and tells us why he and a friend decided to create another football academy, the Kada School, to replace it.  

Is it fair to say that you made it in professional football thanks to the academy in Ouagadougou, Planete Champion, where you learned your trade?

The training that I got at Planete Champion is the key to my success. I got really well trained. I could practise football as well as doing my studies. You learned a lot about football there, and I think it’s very important to learn the basics at a young age. I was lucky enough to receive this training back home, which means that when I went to Europe I was able to adapt. It’s not easy when you arrive in a foreign country. You are young and alone, but my time at the academy allowed me to be mentally stronger. Germany wasn’t easy at first, but with the help of my friend Wilfried Sanou (who joined Freiburg from Planete Champion before Pitroipa) I was able to settle in.

I imagine you had a lot of great memories from your time at Planete Champion. How sad were you the day the academy closed down?

It was very sad. I thought the academy was really benefitting football in Burkina, helping the game to develop in our country. When I heard it was closing down I was sad, but the day it happened I was with Wilfried Sanou and the Freiburg coach. He knew about the Planete Champion school and he urged us to set something up to replace it so that the kids in Burkina could continue to benefit from the school and enjoy the same training that we enjoyed. We tried to start the academy up again, and thanks to the help of our parents, we managed to open the Kada School. It’s been up and running for three years now, and its doing well. We had six or seven trainees picked by Burkina for the Junior CAN and then the World Youth Cup. So the school is doing a lot of good. We are going to do everything possible to make sure the school survives for a long time because young people in Burkina need training centres like this and we need that to help the kids evolve.

One Kada graduate, Abdoul Aziz Traore, recently signed in France for Valenciennes. You must be very proud?

We have already seen two players sign for professional clubs. Coulibaly has joined Anderlecht and Kabore has just signed for Valenciennes. It’s very important for us and gives us a lot of pleasure. It gives us more determination to continue when we see that some players are succeeding. That’s why we are doing everything possible to help them realise their dreams in the same way that we could.

Your parents are looking after the school on a day to day basis. Do you get many opportunities to visit the school and to speak to the kids?

Every time I go back on holiday or go back with the national team for a match I drop in on the school in my spare time. We created the school, but we are lucky that my dad and Wilfried’s dad manage the centre on a day to day basis. They tell us what is going on, while we try to focus on our careers and come to visit whenever we can during the holidays. We take the time to talk to the kids because that helps them to believe in their chances and makes them fight even harder to make their dream come true.

You have clearly kept in close touch with your roots. Can you tell us a bit about where you grew up and what your childhood was like?

I grew up in a neighbourhood of Ouagadougou. I started playing with friends in my neighbourhood and then began playing for my school team. Then I joined a local club where I played for two or three before being selected by Planete Champion. I really didn’t think I had a chance of getting selected because there were about 3000 boys at the trial who had come from all over Burkina. Initially they had to pick 100 boys, then the final selection saw us whittled down to only 10-15 boys. It was really hard. But I decided to try my luck and I thank God today that I went. I succeeded at the trial and integrated the centre and that’s where I received the education that helped me get to Europe.

The domestic league isn’t very strong in Burkina. Do you think it is compulsory to attend the academy if you want to have a career in Europe?

The standard of our league is weak. There aren’t many sponsors so there isn’t much money. The salaries are low and the clubs can’t really develop their structures. For a young player it’s really important to receive proper training. I think it’s still possible to play in Europe having started out in the domestic league in Burkina but it won’t be easy because the standard isn’t like the standard in Europe.

What do you miss most about Burkina when you are in France?

My family and friends. I am used to it now because I have been in Europe for a long time, but I’m always happy when I get the chance to go home to see my family and everyone.

The French cuisine is pretty good, but is their a local African dish that you miss while you are in France?

Nowadays I can find pretty much everything that I eat in Africa in Europe because there are African food shops in France. It was harder in Germany, but I can find pretty much everything I like in France.

What is your favourite dish when you are back home?

I like Soumbala rice [This is a traditional Burkinabé dish: rice, smoked fish, oil, onion, chili and soumbala - a condiment prepared over several days from black péré seeds].

What are the people like in Burkina Faso? How would you describe them?

They are very welcoming. They are nice. When you arrive in Burkina you are made to feel at home straight away. Everyone is jovial. We try to make everyone feel at ease. People are warm.