Didier Drogba is having his best season ever this year, but will it be enough for him to win it all with the Elephants?
Country: Cote d'Ivoire
Didier Drogba is an African superstar and the captain of the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire, planning on winning his first African Cup of Nations in Angola and participating in his second consecutive World Cup this summer in South Africa.
Born in Abidjan, Drogba left his country extremely early to go and live with his uncle, a former professional footballer, the man who would be shaping his discipline and attitude throughout his life. Growing up around Paris, in Levallois, Drogba signed with them as a teenager and would later follow their head coach when the latter was recruited by Le Mans UC72.
Drogba's career is not the fastest route to professional football and he was nowhere near as precocious as the other man who is synonymous with African football, Samuel Eto'o. While Eto'o defied every rule concerning teenage prowess, Drogba was more of a slow starter. The man they used to call "Tito" for his dictator-like attitude and tendency to always give orders had an injury-riddled career at Le Mans.
He was recruited by En Avant de Guingamp only on potential and thanks to Marc Westerloppe's relationship with Guy Lacombe. After a very shaky first season, he impressed many in his second where he managed to score seventeen goals and give nine assists thanks to his amazing relationship with wingers Florent Malouda and Fabrice Fiorèse.
That relationship was so good that he proposed Florent Malouda to the Elephants of Cote d'Ivoire, saying that if "Brazilians could play for Tunisia, why couldn't a French West-Indian play for Cote d'Ivoire". Nothing ever came from that but his friendship continues today at Chelsea.
As soon as he took the Marseille job, Alain Perrin who was coming off a great season with Troyes decided to recruit what he deemed the best attack in the league. And if Malouda was quickly snagged by Olympique Lyonnais and Fiorèse by Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille was dead set on getting the best player out of the three, Drogba.
And that's exactly what they managed to do. Once he arrived in Marseille to very little fanfare (actually the local press was ferocious with him, drawing comparisons to eternal laughingstock Ibrahima "Baka" Bakayoko, calling him Drogbaka before the season started), it took him a few games to get acquainted before giving the supporters the best season that they have ever had this side of their centennial.
If their league results were not great, they had a respectable run in the Champions League and then went to the final of the UEFA Cup, where a 10-man team (Goalkeeper and captain Fabien Barthez was expelled seven minutes in) lost to heavyweights Valencia.
In that season, Drogba scored 38 goals in all competitions combined. Going back to Africa for his vacation, he declared his intention of staying at Marseilles a few more years.
But that was counting out Chelsea and more importantly Jose Mourinho who, on his way to winning the Champions League with Porto faced Marseilles and its striker, so impressed that he asked him at half-time if he "didn't have a cheaper cousin he could buy for Porto".
Mourinho wouldn't have to settle for anything less than the real deal. After arriving at Chesea with only Drogba's name in mind, he put the pressure on his owner who was more than happy to oblige. Not willing to negotiate, Marseilles gave out the outrageous number of €38 million (which was at the time the biggest transfer ever involving a French club) but to their surprise the blues were willing to dish out the big bucks.
Drogba's Senegalese agent, Thierno Seydi was called up and charged of breaking the news to his client, to explain to him that it was in Marseilles' interest that he left, after the player's initial refusal to join the English heavyweights. Eventually, Drogba would join the Blues and has been playing with them over the past six seasons, becoming a global superstar in the process.
Aside from being a star player, Didier Drogba is a point of national pride and a very active man in his country. Him and his teammates were responsible for getting independent militias and the government back on the negotiating tables in the middle of a civil war that was burgeoning. Their intervention nipped the conflict in the bud.
His involvement in campaigns against racial discrimination, fighting aids and malaria in Africa make him much more than your average player. Drogba became a United Nations Development Program Goodwill Ambassador in 2005 and has held camps or UNICEF every summer since.
The next year is crucial for Drogba who is at his most efficient ever under new coach Carlo Ancelotti. With the AFCON and probably his personal last World Cup (he'll be 36 in 2014), Drogba will want to deliver for his country in one of his last chances to build a palmares with his national side.
FA Premier League (2005, 2006)
FA Cup (2007, 2009)
FA Community Shield (2005, 2009)
Football League Cup (2005, 2007)
Onze d'Or (2004)
UEFA Cup Top Scorer
Ligue 1 Player of the Year (2004)
Three-time Ivorian Footballer of the Year: (2004, 2006, 2007)
African Footballer of the Year: 2006
Premier League Top Scorer: 2007
UEFA Team of the Year: 2007
Cote d'Ivoire all-time Top Scorer
Did You Know?
After Jose Mourinho was fired from Chelsea and Drogba voiced his willingness to leave, Olympique de Marseille fans set up a fund, a "Drogbathon" in order to get enough money to buy him and bring him back to Marseille. After a few months and seven virtual millions collected, Drogba reiterated his willingness to come back to Marseille one season and give back to the club what it had given him.