Written by Colby Leachman in 2013
Edited by James Ziemba in 2015
Forward, #11, 35 Years Old (at the time of the 2014 World Cup)
Didier Drogba is one of the most prolific scorers to ever compete in professional football. During his peak, his fame and skill rivaled that of players who compete today like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The heralded superstar, however, has not always lived a life of glory. Drogba’s humble beginnings started 1978 in Abidjan, the economic hub of the Ivory Coast. “Tito” as his friends and family call him, was born to two Ivorian bank workers. He and his parents lived a simple life until Didier was about five years old. After his fifth birthday, his parents decided to send Drogba to live with his uncle and professional footballer, Michael Goba, in Brittany, France (1).
Upon moving in with his uncle, Drogba’s life was in constant motion. He moved back and forth between the Ivory Coast and France multiple times. In order to deal with this somewhat nomadic lifestyle, Drogba used football as a constant for his otherwise ever-changing life. He began his football career as a right-back but, after a discussion with his uncle, moved to striker because according to Goba, “In football, people only look at the strikers (1).”
As Drogba grew under his uncle’s wing, he moved from playing in small local soccer matches to serious soccer clubs. At age 18, Drogba joined the semi-professional football club, Levalliose. He scored in his debut for the club but later failed to gain a professional contract from the team. A year later, Drogba moved to pursue an education in accounting and joined Le Mans. He played for the club from 1997-2002, During his tenure, he became a starter but had troubles with rigorous practice and game schedules. His coach is even quoted as saying, “it took Didier four years to become capable of training everyday (2).”
Finally in 2003, Drogba landed a contract with Gingham in Ligue 1 (2). At the club he blossomed into a top-drawer goal scorer, and the next year, he moved to Marseille. He only played for the French team one year but accumulated 19 goals and earned the honor of being UNFP player of the year(1). His performance opened the eyes of big clubs around the world and a year later he started his historic 8-year career at Chelsea of the English Premier League.
At Chelsea, Drogba’s accomplishments are unmatched. In his tenure with the heralded English club, he became the first African to score over 100 goals in the Premier League. He subsequently was voted Ivorian player of the year and African Footballer of the year in 2007. In addition to these 2007 honors, he won two Golden boots with Chelsea and led the club to multiple FA Cup championships, a European Cup, a UEFA Champions league title and two Premier league championships(1)(3). However, since leaving Chelsea, Drogba’s club career has been marred by volatility. Drogba remains a prolific scorer but has yet to reproduce his historic form for either, FC Galatasary or Shanghai Shenhua.
Similar to his club career, Drogba’s success with the Ivory Coast National team has been nothing short of fantastic. In 2002, he shocked the world by choosing to play for The Ivory Coast as opposed to France. A decision he claims is rooted in his belief that, “People have an opinion of Africa and it is not so good, but we have to let sport unite us all(4).”
In his first years with the national team, Drogba played only occasionally, but as he became more successful with his club team, he also found success with his national team. In 2006, the national team selected Drogba as the team captain, a title he held until he retired from international competition after the 2014 World Cup. As captain he led the team to the African Cup final and their first ever world cup in 2006. Despite his efforts, the team was eliminated from the 2006 World Cup after two games(1).
In 2010, Drogba once again captained the Ivory Coast national team to their second straight World Cup. Drogba had a prolific campaign during the tournament with 6 goals in only five games. As a team, the “Elephants” bounced back from their 2006 defeat and reached the quarterfinals only to lose a close game to Algeria 2-3.
World Cup Outlook
Having qualified for the third year in a row, Drogba will crucial to the team’s success in the 2014 Rio World Cup. For the past eight years, the Ivory Coast has used Drogba as its offensive motor. He combines with the mid-fielders Gervinho and Yaya Toure in order to cultivate almost the entirety of the teams scoring chances. His strength on the ball, the cleverness of his runs, and his impeccable finishing provided the spark Ivory Coast needed to make the quarterfinals of the 2008 World Cup(1).
Drogba’s form is especially crucial considering the team’s high expectations for this World Cup. Along with Cameroon and Nigeria, the hopes of all of Africa rest on the shoulders of the Ivory Coast. With unprecedented African success in the past two World Cups, the hope and expectation to finally crack the semi finals is almost tangible. Ivory Coast in particular, has an exceptional amount of talent with over ten players coming from top European club teams. Success would mean an entire continent united while failure almost guarantees the disappointment of millions.
Aside from national expectations, Drogba also has individual expectations he must deal with. Having fallen from his historic form while at Chelsea, many have begun doubting Drogba’s current abilities. Perhaps nothing is more symbolic of this fall from grace than his missed PK in their loss against Zambia in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (5). While the cause for this slump is unclear, critics often cite his age and his lackluster effort as sources for his inconsistent form. However, what remains clear is that for the Ivory Coast to have any sort of success at the World Cup; Drogba will have to as sharp, if not sharper than his 2008 performance. After all the hopes of an entire nation and perhaps of his future club career will depend on it.
So how did he do…
Drogba was called upon as a substitute for two of the Ivory Coast’s three 2014 World Cup matches. In their opening bout vs. Japan, Drogba entered the match in the second half with Ivory Coast trailing 1-0 and helped spark a rally that turned the one goal deficit into a one goal advantage. He helped lead “Les Èlèphants” to a 2-1 victory and a valuable three points in their first WC match.(6)
Drogba once again came off the bench for Ivory Coast’s second cup match against Colombia. He made another second half entrance but did not help produce results like he did a match earlier. In the 65th minute, Ivory Coast yielded a corner, and Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez leaped over Drogba and nodded the corner home to give Colombia a 1-0 advantage. Gervinho gave Ivory Coast their first goal of the match at the 73rd minute, but his effort proved to be “too little, too late,” as Colombia had extended their lead a few minutes earlier, and left Ivory Coast with 0 points and a 2-1 decision in favor of the Colombians.(7)
In what turned out to be Drogba’s final cap for the national team, manager Sabri Lamouchi tabbed Drogba as a starter for the squad’s match against Greece. He, along with Gervinho, was replaced in the late stages of the match as Ivory Coast pushed to take a lead in the match, which was knotted at one goal apiece. Ivory Coast ended up conceding a penalty in injury time of the second half and came out on the wrong side of, yet again, a 2-1 score.(8)
They were eliminated from World Cup contention in the group stage for the third consecutive tournament. Following the tournament’s conclusion, Drogba retired from international competition with the Ivory Coast national team.(9)
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Continue on to Group C – Japan: Endo Yasuhito
Group C – Colombia: Radamel Falcao
Group C – Greece: Giorgos Karagounis
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Learn about the Ivory Coast’s National Anthem
How to cite this article: “Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba” Written by Colby Leachman (2013), World Cup 2014, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, http://sites.duke.edu/wcwp (accessed on (date)).
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