Chad Johnson made a name for himself in the NFL, where he was named a six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and a two-time All-Pro.
But that isn’t the only brand of football that Johnson is extremely passionate about.
This fall, Johnson will join soccer broadcasting veterans Kate Abdo and Maurice Edu in Qatar to host FOX Sports’ nightly highlight and recap show “FIFA World Cup Tonight.”
In explaining his lifetime love of soccer, Johnson took former United States men’s national team defender and “State of the Union” host Alexi Lalas all the way back to his elementary school days in Liberty City.
“I remember my P.E. teacher, Mr. Telles, dumped out all of the balls, and the one thing I gravitated to was the black and white soccer ball,” said Johnson, who was formerly known as Ochocinco. “That’s where I learned about the game of soccer back then. But obviously where I’m from, we didn’t have the resources, I didn’t have the money to play the game of soccer. So what did I do? I just watched what was on TV at the time … ever since then, I’ve always wanted to play soccer but never had the time to play.”
Johnson’s first opportunity to play organized soccer came in high school, but soccer season interfered with football, which he saw as a potential professional career in.
Once he made it to the NFL as a second-round pick, Johnson spent his offseasons traveling to Europe to watch his then-fellow Nike athletes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry, play soccer at the highest level, and he continued that tradition when he retired.
“I’ve been doing that for a very, very long time,” Johnson said. “And after almost 20-something years now, I know pretty much … not the most, because I never played at a high level, but I know a lot.”
It’s true Johnson never played at a high level, however, he did have a four-day tryout with MLS club Sporting Kansas City during the 2011 NFL lockout. He also played semi-professionally in his home state of Miami with Boca Raton FC. His dream is to play for Serie A side Napoli, like his all-time favorite player Diego Maradona.
“It’s Napoli and then everyone else,” Johnson said of his rooting interests.
Until he gets that call from Napoli manager Luciano Spalletti, Johnson will have to settle for playing with Napoli on EA Sports’ FIFA franchise, a game he said he’s “the best in the world” at.
“I’ve been playing FIFA for the longest,” Johnson said. “Since ’98, if I’m not mistaken. I’ve been playing ever since then. Obviously, if I couldn’t be great at it in real life, you’ve got to great at it on the video games. It’s always been my go-to.
“I’ve been showing up at people’s houses — that’s well-documented. People that talk trash to me over Twitter. Like, I’m in L.A. right now. I would tweet out, ‘Does anyone want to play FIFA? Let me know.’ And I’ll go through their Twitter, and if they have a feed that’s actually them playing the game, I’ll probably go to their house and play, as long as they have food in the refrigerator. I’ve been doing that for almost a decade. It’s a little dangerous, but I don’t care.”
Johnson doesn’t anticipate that he’ll have much time to play FIFA while he’s in Qatar because of how busy he’ll be with his broadcasting duties, but he’s not complaining about his new day job — he can hardly contain his excitement.
“I talked to my wife yesterday, and she said, ‘What is it comparable to?’ and it’s really comparable to draft day,” Johnson said of getting the call to be an analyst at the World Cup. “Getting drafted and seeing your name go across that ticker, that’s a feeling you can’t explain.
“I’m going to a World Cup. I get to watch games and then go to said games as an analyst for FOX Sports — that’s like getting drafted to the NFL. The feeling is no different.
“And she’s asking me, ’What are you tearing up for?’ What do you mean what am I tearing up for? Every time someone gets drafted, what’s the first thing they do? Cry. That’s huge.”
You can watch the “State of the Union” podcast on YouTube or subscribe on podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts.
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