While he may be remembered as a combative and uncompromising figure at the back with the likes of France and Rangers, Juventus and Lyon, Jean-Alain Boumsong couldn't be further from that character in conversation. High-spirited and light-hearted, the former defender was a fruitful source of surprising anecdotes from his wide-ranging career in the game. There are two topics which he talks about with particular passion - the Old Firm derby in Scotland and the FIFA World Cup™.
"It was very special to play in the Old Firm derby," Boumsong told www.sc.qa of facing Glasgow rivals Celtic while at Rangers. "It's probably the best derby in the world. I played for Lyon, Juventus, Panathinaikos, Newcastle, but all the people in the stands are standing and singing the same songs. It is impressive. Your team-mate can be two metres away from you but he can't hear you because the noise level is so high.
While it's over a decade since he was competing in Scotland, his relationship with the World Cup goes back a bit further, with the former France international having fond memories of tuning in as a child. It was in his country of birth, Cameroon, which had a lasting effect on him when Roger Milla and his team-mates surprised the world in 1990 by reaching the quarter-finals. Boumsong was clearly inspired by the first African team to reach that stage. "In Cameroon when the national team plays the country stops. Everybody is watching the game and there's no other activity. It's not very good for the economy either," he joked.
After making his debut for France in 2003, Boumsong was part of the French squad at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, and one incident involving his captain while there sticks out more than most. "We struggled to qualify from the group stage and then we played against Spain. Before the game the Spanish were saying that Zinedine Zidane will retire after that game. We ended up beating them, and Zidane was very, very good in that match. After that game it was the first time I saw Zidane like a kid. He was jumping on the table dancing like you probably won't see him. He was happy like a teenager. It was one of the biggest joys in my career."
The well-travelled centre-back also played for teams in Greece, England and his native France, and his globe-trotting career has convinced him that the World Cup will be well placed visiting the Arab and Muslim world for the first time. "Football is worldwide and the World Cup is the biggest event in football and in sports," he explained. "It's good to have it in different countries and continents, and I think that will help."
A convert to Islam, Boumsong also discussed the all-encompassing power of the game on a visit to the offices of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy in Doha, saying: "Football has no religion, we're just human beings. We are opponents during the game but at the end of the game we are all the same. We can all live together with sport and especially football; because the World Cup is one of the most important events in the world and it has the ability to unify people."