Standing 6’5 (1.95m) tall and skilful with it, Nando de Colo would have made a very fine footballer. Thankfully for basketball fans, De Colo, who hails from Sainte-Catherine in northern France, chose instead to showcase his innate flair with the big orange ball.
The 29-year-old guard, who has played in the past for Cholet, Valencia, San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors, has just enjoyed a season to remember with CSKA Moscow, helping them win a second Russian championship and the EuroLeague, while also collecting the EuroLeague Final Four MVP award for himself.
De Colo also had a very big hand to play in France’s qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Basketball Tournament on 10 July. Breaking off from his intensive preparations for France’s medal bid, which begins against Australia on 6 August, he spoke to FIFA.com about his passion for football.
FIFA.com: Tell us about your relationship with football?
Nando de Colo: I started playing basketball when I was five, and I played both sports between the ages of nine and 11. I was living in Arras, and I did my football training and then crossed the street to go and do my basketball training. Sometimes, if things fell right, I could play my basketball match on Saturdays and then play my football game on Sundays. It was cool because I’m a total sports fan and my family is very sporty too. I did that for two years and then I had to make a choice because the set-ups I was playing in became that little bit more professional. It was very hard for me to carry on playing two sports. It was a difficult choice, though in the end it became quite easy and natural because of the environment I was in. These days, I try to play in summer when I’m in Spain and organise football matches. I don’t like playing basketball when I’m on holiday.
What type of player are you?
When I was a kid, I’d play in any position really. The first match I played was with the year above me. The team didn’t have a goalkeeper so they stuck me in goal. It wasn’t exactly a success. It was in the north, it was cold and I hadn’t brought any gloves. It couldn’t end soon enough (laughs). After that, I really loved playing on the wing. I was big and fast, which was useful when it came to getting on the end of crosses. That was what I was good at. These days I really love playing in the midfield, pulling the strings, getting stuck in, shooting and all that.
What did you learn from football while you were making your way in basketball?
Not a lot, because they’re two very different sports. Maybe support play, because it’s a very big part of football and you perhaps don’t work on it that much in basketball when you’re young. I think that helped me later on.
Which club do you support?
In 1998, I moved from Arras to Lens, which didn’t have an especially big basketball team, but they’d signed some good players and moved up a level. I stayed there for two seasons and my father and I had tickets for RC Lens’ home matches, the year they won the title. Lens dominated the league at the time. They brought in some really good foreign players and they had some very good French players too. They were a good side to watch.
Is there one player who stood out for you at the time?
I was a big fan of Tony Vairelles. I thought he had it all. He was quick, alert, good with both feet and a good passer of the ball. He was on top of his game. When we were kids, everyone pretended to be someone when we played, and I was always the Lens No.11 [the shirt number Vairelles wore for Lens]. I thought he’d go on and have an even better career than he did. In sport, it all comes down to fine margins though. You need opportunities and a bit of luck. He never got the luck he deserved, but I’ll always respect him, for that French title and because I grew up with him.
Which other players are right up there for you?
There was the Zinedine Zidane era obviously, but that was the same for everyone. I saw this video online, and it said in big letters: ‘There are players who have won the league title but not the Champions League, and vice versa. There are players who have won everything except the World Cup. There is Thierry Henry, who has won everything except the Ballon d’Or. And then there is Zidane.’ I think that sums him up pretty well. Zidane was right up there for quite a few people.
Are there any players you identify yourself with?
I’m a fan of Andres Iniesta’s. He can do so many things on the pitch. He keeps things very simple yet still manages to score very important goals in the big games. He’s not always in the limelight, but he’s there doing the hard yards for his team, with all the quality he has. He’s always on the hunt for results and titles, both for his club and his country. I’ve got exactly the same mentality.
You’ve been playing for the last two years in Russia, which will be hosting the next FIFA World Cup™. What can you tell us about the country?
I think it’s going to be very interesting to see the World Cup there. Russia is not exactly a country where people usually choose to go. The important thing is not to be swayed by first impressions though. When I went there, I had the feeling, like a lot of others do, that the people would be pretty cold to begin with, especially with the language barrier. It’s not very easy to make yourself understood to start with, but once you know the culture and how people are, then it’s a very nice country to live in. I’ve been having a really nice time there for the last two years. I find Moscow to be a very beautiful city. The winters are cold and it snows a lot, but everything changes in the summer. There are a lot of green spaces and parks for children. My family and I have got settled in now and we’ve discovered a lot of really nice things. The Russians are very good organisers and they’re going to do something big. I’ll be there to watch it all.
How do you feel heading into the Olympic Tournament with Les Bleus and what are you hoping to achieve there?
There are six of us who are playing in our last Olympic Games. We didn’t take the shortest route because we had to go to the Olympic qualifying tournament in the Philippines. It wasn’t easy because we had one match after another, and all on top of what had been a long season for all of us. We did what we had to do to qualify though. Our preparations haven’t begun too well, with defeats to Serbia and Croatia, but we know we have the experience to pick ourselves up and start the tournament well. It’s going to be tough to win gold with the Americans around. They’re a cut above everyone else, but we definitely think we can win a medal. We can’t just sit around and think about it, though. We have to go and do all we can to make it happen.