Such is the scale of the elaborate tapestry over Djibril Cissé's body that he regards it as one big tattoo, not a collection that has grown since the age of 17 when he first indulged in his "obsession".
"I started with one, then got another, then another," he explains. "I count it more by the number of sessions I have undergone."
There have been many of those over the past 13 years. Chinese symbols, a spider's web and a skull are among the artwork on his torso, beneath his favourite tattoos, those which spell out the names of his four children. On his back are wings.
"The wings? Because it's the Angel Gabriel and Djibril is Gabriel [in Arabic]," Cissé said. "Faith is important to me. I'm very religious and I need that to feel, to improve and find the strength to fight every day. It is, and always has been, important to me."
Faith is linked to something else for Cissé – mental strength, a quality he says he acquired from his formidable mother, Karidjata, who raised seven children as a single parent in the "difficult part" of the town of Arles in southern France. It was a tough, unforgiving upbringing and he has not forgotten it. He never will. "It's a good story," he says.
Karidjata still lives in Arles – although she was moved, by Cissé, to a much more impressive home once his career developed – but she was in Shepherd's Bush, west London, for her youngest child's home debut for Queens Park Rangers on Feb 4. Unfortunately, Cissé was sent off in that match against Wolverhampton Wanderers for reacting violently to a tackle by Roger Johnson; and, incredibly, the next month was sent off against Sunderland for an ugly lunge at Frazier Campbell.
The powerful striker, signed on deadline day for £4 million from Lazio, is finally free from bans of seven matches in total and can face Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at Loftus Road on Saturday.
He has scored three times in five appearances for Rangers – and been sent off in the other two.
Karidjata was not pleased with her son's behaviour and his apologies have been profuse. "No, she wasn't happy, she told me off," Cissé says of his mum's reaction to his first dismissal. "But she is also proud of my career and she also loves football. I'm very sad with what happened. I've had three red cards in 12 years and two of those have now been in seven weeks." But why?
"Things happen and, to be honest, what's important is how I react now and what I am going to do now. It's past," says Cissé, who may be known for his flamboyant appearance and clothing – he married in a red suit and matching trilby – but, for this interview, is dressed soberly in a black tracksuit.
"The team has done well without me and if I get the chance to get back into the team I need to show that I'm not only a human who can make mistakes but that I am a good player and that I deserve to be there, out on the pitch.
"I know myself what I did. I don't need to watch a video to see it again. So now it's up to me to control myself and not to do it again. It was a reaction in the heat of the moment. Sometimes you do make mistakes and it's not because I have received two red cards that I am a bad person. It's a game situation and now it's time for me to stop talking about it because winning games is more important than thinking about my record."
Cissé feels he owes a debt, not just to Karidjata but to Rangers and, in particular, manager Mark Hughes who, when he was in charge of Manchester City and then again at Fulham, tried to sign the France international. "I feel like I have let him down because he's a great manager," Cissé admits, before explaining his why he moved from Serie A: "I wanted to come back to England, to play in the Premier League, because the style of the game and the way the teams play suits me, so this was a good opportunity for me. That's why I feel very sad at what has happened."
Despite the arrival of Hughes and Cissé and others such as Bobby Zamora and Nedum Onuoha, Rangers have not pulled clear of the relegation places. They sit two points ahead of Bolton Wanderers, having played two games more. Hughes has them organised and performing well but red cards – not just to Cissé but also, for example, Shaun Derry's harsh dismissal away to Manchester United – have hit hard and now they face what the striker says are "four cup finals".
After Spurs, they are away to Chelsea, at home to Stoke City before travelling to Manchester City on the final day of the season.
"We are going to have to fight, to show no fear, and get more points," says Cissé. "I love the challenge. Of course, we don't have a big margin for error because it's going to cost us 'big time' [in terms of relegation].
"But was it a risk for me to join? No. If the worst happens, we will sit down and find the best solution for the club and for me. The club has been loyal to me and you have to give that back – so whatever happens, I want to stay."
He says he does not want to think about relegation. "I think we are going to stay up. We have the talent, the experience and this is the right time to show it."
Cissé's career has featured two major injuries. He runs a finger down the bottom half of his right leg from below the knee all the way to his ankle. He is showing the length of the metal pin inserted "into the bone" inside that leg. He has another, the same length, in his left leg. "Both legs," he says ruefully. "I don't think anyone else has come back to play after breaking both legs the way I did." It's why he reacted so strongly to Johnson's challenge.
It was 10 league games into his Liverpool career, having joined for a then club-record £14 million from Auxerre in 2004 as Michael Owen's replacement, that Cissé's foot caught in the turf at Ewood Park and his tibia and fibula snapped. Then, in 2006, on international duty, his right leg twisted and buckled in another challenge and his tibia was fractured.
"After the first one, people thought I was finished with football," Cissé says. "But I knew straight away that I would play again that season. I told the doc and he said 'no, your season is finished' but I played the last two months. Then the second happened and people were saying 'maybe you can come back after one, but not two'. But I did it.
"I've got the same bones as everyone else but maybe I'm stronger in the head and I will do everything I can to reach my targets. I have a really strong personality, strong mentality and my mum is like this too, I think I got it from her. She had a really tough time, alone with seven kids, and she made it. I'm proud of her and want her to be proud of me.
"I remember her saying to me, in Arles, that life was not easy, there are a lot of difficulties but you have to get over them and never give up. Football was, and is, my passion."
When he signed his first contract as a professional he posed himself a question. "I asked myself this – because I had left school with no diploma, nothing – 'if you do well, you do well but if not then what are you going to do?' And I've never given up. Follow your dream. Never give up."
And now that he is back from suspension, back in Rangers' colours? What is the target? "We have to stay up," he says simply Telegraph
Sparky played at the top flight as a striker until he was 38, and reckons that if the Icelander wants to get anywhere near the same milestone, he should heed the warnings.
Helguson made a first-team return as sub in the 1-0 defeat at WBA on Saturday after undergoing surgery in January on a damaged groin – a result of the top scorer playing on when he was injured.
The 34-year-old has notched nine vital goals in Hoops backs-against-the wall campaign, and might have been closer to double that figure had he been available since the 1-0 FA Cup defeat to Chelsea.
Hughes said: “It’s a case of looking after yourself and working out what works for you.
“Heidar understands that. You could argue that maybe he played too long because he’s such a genuine and honest player.
“That’s maybe something he will learn from and how he needs to understand his body.
“At Premier League level you can’t play at 60-70 per cent level and get away with it. And it was a real blow when he went out of the team, because he was top scorer as well.”
20 April 2012
Taye Taiwo: I want QPR to stay up so that I don’t have to return to the San Siro
Taye Taiwo has spent his life fighting and isn’t going to give up now. From his youth on the streets of Lagos, where he was told he was too poor to play football, to his time as a reserve at AC Milan, the 27-year-old’s character has shone through.
Now comes a test as tough as any of those he has overcome — the battle to keep Queens Park Rangers in the Premier League.
With four games left, Mark Hughes’s side are two points above the trapdoor. The snag, and it is rather a large one, is that three of those games are against Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. A tougher run-in is scarcely imaginable but Rangers are a club that rarely do things the easy way.
Indeed, it could be argued that games against sides in the upper echelons are preferable, considering that Arsenal and Liverpool have both lost at Loftus Road in the past four weeks.
Taiwo has as much incentive to avoid the dreaded drop as anyone in the home dressing room.
If Rangers are relegated he will return to the San Siro, where he feels unwelcome and unwanted. Survive and a permanent £3.5million move to the club he says he has fallen in love with will be finalised.
Taiwo makes it clear he is not yet ready to leave England. The idea of plying his trade in the Premier League was planted by Harry Redknapp, now in charge of tomorrow’s opponents, Tottenham, when the England manager in waiting attempted to buy him for Portsmouth.
It continued when Hughes tried to lure him to Manchester City in 2008. Now, finally, he is here — and he is determined this chapter of his life won’t end just yet.
“It has been a long time coming for me to play in England,” he said.
“The deals have never quite been done. Harry Redknapp, a great man, tried to buy me for Portsmouth when Kanu was there. He looked at me for a long time.
“Then so did Mark Hughes at Manchester City. But Marseille (the club he was at for six years before joining Milan last summer) always said ‘no’.
“Now I feel at home here. Everyone has welcomed me and I enjoy playing here. I know I haven’t been here a long time but if I am here next season then I will be very happy.
“I don’t want to go back to Milan. I pray that QPR will stay up as we have an agreement that I will stay if they do and that would be fantastic for me.”
Rangers paid for failing to take their chances as they were beaten at West Brom last weekend but Taiwo knows Rangers will survive only if they play without fear.
“Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon — oh my God,” he laughs, pretending to fan his face in mock horror at the prospect that awaits his side at Loftus Road tomorrow.
“But I can defend, I certainly know that. I will say to them at the start of the game, ‘Boy, today you are going nowhere. Nowhere! I’m going to stick with you and stop you — maybe even sit with you at half-time in your dressing room!’
“It’s about commitment now. Tottenham lost very badly against Chelsea but it will be a new game and they have fantastic players and a great manager.
“For us the important thing is not to be scared. Sometimes you think ‘if I shoot maybe it will go wrong’. No. We cannot be scared of nobody or no one.
“Each player in our team has great talents and we have to pull together. We also have a great manager, a wonderful man, and we know what he expects from us — to be 500 per cent committed and give everything. This is the biggest game of our season.”
ThaT Taiwo is so relaxed about this weekend is perhaps due to his upbringing. Desperate to play football in Lagos, he and his friends were told they could not afford the entry fee for the local five-a-side tournament. His easy smile and infectious laugh eventually helped persuade the organisers to relent and there began his astonishing journey.
“We won everything, man, everything!” he said. “We would finish school, drop our bags and play to enjoy ourselves. I was asked if I wanted to join a club but I said no as I wanted to go out, play with my friends and have a good time. I thought a club wouldn’t let me have fun.
“But my family gave me confidence I could make it in football so eventually I said yes and I made my debut for the Nigerian national team against South Africa in 2004.
“That night I was in my hotel room and I got a phone call from the president of Marseille — he wanted to sign me. I didn’t think he was serious.
“I had seen them on TV and they had players such as Didier Drogba — I thought I could never play with them.
“But I flew to France and they thought I was a good player so I stayed there for six years. It was amazing.”
And from there, via the San Siro, Taiwo has found a second home at Loftus Road.
Now the challenge is to extend both his and QPR’s stay in the top flight. Evening Standard