He’s Gary Neville without the jobsworthiness, Cafu on a congestion charge, Dani Alves without the multi-instrumentalism, Alexis Mendomo without the razzmatazz. Anyone who has watched him at club level or Ivorian colours will attest to that. He is a makeshift right-back who is indisputably great.
As Jean Jacques Gosso ambles into the restaurant, situated in the hub of Perpignan, he is instantly compatible to his modus operandi on the pitch despite the hazy fog that separates us; a martinet sneersmile etched on his face, his white boots pitter-pattering on the concrete floor, his phosphorescent Cote d’Ivoire jersey utterly blinding – inasmuch as making me reach for my sunglasses – and then, of course, there are those assured, regal strides sealed with tunnel vision which makes one thing irrefragable: this is a man who is going places and fully in control of his destiny. I stood up to greet him as his shade loomed into my personal space and what ensued was crunching, almighty welcome-to-the-restaurant tackle through me. JJG laughed raucously as I withered in pain on the floor. I had been warned by my journo mates that this was his typical initiation to test the mental toughness of the individual. I manned up.
It takes a while for us to get going but when we do Gosso makes for an enthralling interviewee: polite – Is it okay if I stroke my dreads? – earthily charming, intelligent, humorous, totally comfortable in his own skin and devoid of media training – a journalist’s dream. Startled by his habit of wearing football boots and a full football kit even away from the pitch, I went straight into asking him the reasons behind that peculiarity. “No one really knows me,” he laments in his thick Francophile English, which possessed a tremor of pain and injustice, his head bowed down like a defendant who was seconds away from being sentenced in court. “In Turkey, I spend an absurd amount of hours just riding the Turkish Metro hoping someone would recognise me, but I’ve enjoyed far too many peaceful journeys. So, I’ve taken to the streets. What I’m doing is I’m campaigning for myself to become recognised as a football player.”
He speaks like a legend, softly and ponderously, knowing that I’m his biggest fan and will listen to whatever he has to say. As tears began to gather in his eyes he almost stops speaking, but then he continues. “At first, my aim in football was just to play football, you know, and entertain or kick the fuck out of people. I would go into Hemel Hempstead and banter with my fellow hipsters, I even moved to Orduspor because Monaco was too mainstream. But then I started mixing with the wrong crowd…”
He shuffles in his seat as he formulates the rest of his response, inflating his cheeks before exhaling as he prepares to deliver a revelation. “You know, when I’m away on duty with Les Elephants – Didier, Salomon, Yaya – suddenly I started to see these guys getting interviews and the mega deals. I thought ‘You know what? I wouldn’t mind being part of that’. This is when I caught Acute Mainstream Syndrome. Come the summer, I was whoring myself out to clubs. And this is when Orduspor decided to get rid.” He sheds a tear as he approaches the end of the sentence, the rhythm of his dread-stroking derailed for the first time.
I smile inwardly as he brings the most pressing topic to the table, knowing Sandals For Goalposts readers would be interested in his time at Orduspor more than anything else. Were Orduspor right to freeze him out and then part ways with him? “JJG [Jean-Jacques Gosso] is not the BBC or CAF, but it’s an acronym you can trust. I’m trialling at Brest now,” he says with a fluid facial expression as he quickens to deliver the punchline, “and it’s an opportunity I’m looking to grab with both hands.”
I find myself warming to Gosso, he doesn’t straight-bat questions or coat them with diplomatic spin. But just as I’m about to explore his time at Wydad Casablanca his phone vibrates and he springs to his feet with feral intensity. “I must go,” he says, eyes blinking rapidly as he takes a few glances at his phone. “One more question.”
Gosso downs a supermalt slowly before letting out a belly laugh when I question him on the unrest in the Ivorian camp during June’s World Cup qualifiers; first, a training ground bust-up with Abdul Razak, and then a fight with Yaya Toure over a stolen phone the following night in the team hotel. “Ohhhh, two fights in two days with two different teammates, rumours that I’m set to be expelled, and then I’m rewarded with a place in the starting line-up? You couldn’t make it up could you? Seems like the Ivorian FA did. That’s the Ivorian FA for you, very well-run,” he says with over-the-top laughter, “but I’m telling you this off-the-record, so don’t put it in your interview.”
Indeed, Gosso would be reinstated to the Ivorian line-up in their 4-2 win over Tanzania for the first time since Cote d’Ivoire’s traumatic defeat to Zambia in the 2012 Afcon final. He would play alongside the heir to his throne in a maelstrom midfield pivot, the scythe-tackling Serey Die. Gosso nods at a reminder that Pele believes they are the greatest midfield pivot in the world.
“It’s fascinating how Serey and I understand each other so instinctively,” he says with an effusive smile. “Tactical fouling, winding opponents up, two-footed lunges, technical inability, we have all the tools a great midfield partnership needs. They say ‘birds of the same feathers flock together’, so it must be that.”
Gosso pauses and then, demolishing the leftover flesh on a chicken thigh, matter-of-factly adds: “Though it seems like a bird also shit right in the middle of Serey’s hair.”