Swansea’s goal machine Wilfried Bony speaks to Jack Magazine about starting his career as a centre-back, how he first found his shooting boots, and tormenting defenders with his sheer strength.
Judging by his goalscoring record, few would have imagined that Wilfried Bony began his football career as a defender. But that’s how it all started for the man who is set to finish the calendar year as the Barclays Premier League’s top scorer.
With 20 goals in 2014, the Ivory Coast international leads the way ahead of Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Wayne Rooney in the top-flight scoring charts.
But had it not been for some wise words from a coach during his time with the academy of Cyrille Domoraud – the ex-Ivory Coast defender who played for Inter and AC Milan – in his hometown of Bingerville, Bony may have never found his shooting boots.
“I started off as a defender, but I became a striker when I was 14, I think,” explains Bony as he sits down at Swansea’s training ground to speak to Jack Magazine.
“One of our forwards got injured so I had to go up front. In my first game I scored straight away and they asked me to stay there. They said: ‘you’re not a stopper anymore’.”
His goalscoring exploits earned him his first professional contract in 2006, aged 17, when he joined Issia Wazi in the Ivory Coast, before he moved to Europe to join Czech Republic side Sparta Prague.
During his time in Prague he scored 22 goals in 59 games before signing for Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem in 2011, where in two years he scored a sensational 51 in 69.
But it hasn’t always been glitz and goals for the free-scoring striker who cost the Swans £12 million in the summer of 2013.
“I started playing football when I was very young – only two or three-years-old,” says Bony. “I would play without shoes, but it would hurt my feet so my mum bought me some boots, black boots.
“My parents both had jobs. They were not very poor but not rich either.
“I used to play with my family or with my friends in the city streets, before joining the academy in Ivory Coast, run by Cyrille Domoraud.”
But had it been up to his father, a teacher, Bony would have been concentrating on his studies rather than his football.
“Most of the time it was nice growing up in the Ivory Coast,” adds the 26-year-old target man. “I was in school, but I argued a little bit with my father for almost three years.
“He wanted me to go to school, but I was focused on football. He would say to me: ‘go to school and after that you can play. There are other people, like doctors, who play football’.
“But I just wanted to play football; it was what I wanted to do, so we argued.
“But when I left Ivory Coast for Europe, everything became much easier and he is very happy now.”
And for Bony in general, life is good in SA1. Not only has he recently signed a contract extension with the Swans, scoring goals and is on top of his game, but his family have also joined him in South Wales.
“I’m really happy here, with the fans and everything,” he says. “We have been playing good football this season so, for me, it is very enjoyable to play in this team.
“My family is here now, which makes things easier for me. It will be nice to have my family around for Christmas.”
Bony’s eldest son, Jeffrey, is also a keen footballer and a spitting image of his father.
“He trains with Swansea Academy. He plays a lot like me, strong on the ball and likes to hold defenders off,” laughs Bony.
That ‘Bony hold-off’ has become the powerhouse forward’s trademark, much like Johan Cruyff’s ‘Cruyff turn’ and Ronaldinho’s ‘flip-flap’.
Displaying his immense strength by holding defenders at bay with a single outstretched arm is, in addition to his impressive scoring rate, what Bony has become best known for.
With his back to goal, the big man – all 91kg (14st 3lb) of him – holds off his marker for as long as he feels necessary, ensuring his opponent has no chance of winning possession without fouling him.
“Sometimes it’s funny to do that,” Bony chuckles. “It shows the defender that I am winning the battle mentally and physically.
“But the most important thing is to help the team first and foremost, so it depends on the score.
“Every game is different, so I think about it and if I get the opportunity, I try to do it because the fans enjoy seeing it. I like to do tricks and things like that to make the crowd happy.”
So how has Bony developed such sheer strength – the tree trunk-like thighs, bulging chest and muscle-bound physique? Hours and hours in the gym, right? Wrong.
“You can ask Jonny Northeast (sports scientist), I don’t like the gym,” Bony insists. “It’s good for your fitness, but I am naturally strong. I don’t do weights.
“I do what I need to do, but then I’m done. My mother was a black belt in judo, so maybe I get my strength from her. But I’ve never been one for the gym.”
The Swans will certainly miss the talismanic striker when he heads to Equatorial Guinea in January as part of the Ivory Coast squad competing in the African Cup of Nations.
It’s another opportunity for Bony to show what he does best on the international front, but he will be cheering on his Swansea team-mates from afar.
“When I’m away, I will be ringing the players here to see how they are getting on. If they are available, I will be watching the games on the Internet, that’s for sure,” he added.
“I am looking forward to the tournament. Hopefully I can help my country enjoy success, but first I will be concentrating on Swansea until I go.
“We have a few games before I leave, and I will be doing everything I can to help the team get as many points as possible.”
Swans fans will be hoping that Bony can continue 2015 as he finishes 2014 – firing on all cylinders.