He just announced his retirement this last week. Another legend leaves the stage. Drogba may have seen out his days in the U.S 2nd tier soccer league but his career was far from 2nd level. Between 2004 and 2015, Didier Drogba blew my mind and became the ultimate African football icon.
There were many before him; Eusebio, Selif Keita, Kalusha Bwalya, Abedi Pele, George Weah, Nwankwo Kanu, Jay Jay Okocha, Samuel Eto’o e.t.c. But when the name ‘Didier Drogba’ is mentioned, few people can deny his impact on their football consciousness. Watching Drogba over the years was nothing short of magical because he got better, every year…even deep into his 30s.
It wasn’t an instant attraction. I didn’t know much about him because he played in France. I knew he was a big hit there and Marseille enjoyed a remarkable season in the UEFA cup the previous season before he left for England. His start in English football was not easy either. Goals were hard to come by and he looked ‘small’ compared to the more established ones already at Stamford Bridge (Crespo, Kezman, Gudjohnsen…). In short, many felt he would be ‘just another African striker’ (Diouf, Wreh, Akinbiyi…)
Another thing was that he chose Chelsea. What made it worse were the reports that suggested that Arsenal in for him much earlier (argh! Really?!). He chose Chelsea…and Jose Mourinho (the man who disrespected my beloved Wenger). To top it off, he was the source of pain for many Arsenal fans…globally.
London derbies were hard to watch; Drogba would always score. Whether it was the winner or the equalizer, he knew how to break Arsenal hearts. Remember the League Cup Final in 2007? Yea, that’s my worst memory of Drogba in a Chelsea.
But look beyond that. Drogba (alongside Lampard, Terry and Cech) made Chelsea what it is today. Think of all the big games that he scored in (including the games against Barcelona). Think of the finals that he WON single-handed. Think of the two golden boots he won in the English Premier League. Think of the stunning goals and majestic combination of brute and technique. Drogba was every defender’s nightmare, and he loved it.
From my TV screen, I felt his desire to win every game. He played with a mission that was clear as clean water: get that win. It was fitting that he scored the penalty that won Chelsea the Champions’ League. He just knew how to raise the bar on the big occasions. I remember the final game against Wigan in the 2009/2010 season. He scored FOUR goals to win the Golden boot and cap a title-winning season for the Blues. I remember the FA Cup final in 2009 when Saha took a few seconds to draw first blood. Drogba was at it that day. The 2012 FA Cup Final against Liverpool. It was Drogba. The final against Man United in 2007? It was DROGBAAAAAAAA!!!! Yes…Goal for Chelsea…Didier Drogba (will never forget the commentary).
He probably was unlucky when he played for Ivory Coast. He should have won an AFCON trophy at least, because he played in a talented generation of players. He made his mark on the international stage nonetheless, playing in 3 World Cups (scoring in 2 of them).
Drogba is the model Number 9 for African strikers. He made football worth it. Sometimes, I marvel that Africa produced a player of his caliber. Few players have made the impact he made on many fans. For me, he will always be the greatest African player…simply because he walked into Europe and won it all, by himself.