Is Drogba headed to MLS?
Ever since Fernando Torres arrived at Chelsea in January, questions have been raised about Didier Drogba's future at Stamford Bridge. Would the Ivorian stay or be pushed out? Would he relish the opportunity to partner with a new strike partner or endeavor to leave for another club where he'd be the focal point of the offense? According to two well-placed sources in the U.S. who've been contacted by the player's representatives, Drogba is exploring the possibility of playing in Major League Soccer when his current contract expires in 2012.
After netting 29 goals to win the Golden Boot and lead Chelsea to the Premier League crown in 2010, Drogba has seen his form dramatically dip this season. The 33-year-old has scored 10 goals and hasn't been able to develop chemistry with Torres.
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With Chelsea expected to recruit teenage prodigies Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht and Neymar from Santos, as well as benefit from the return of Daniel Sturridge, who's on loan at Bolton, the team wants to move in a younger direction.
One of the sources also said that after years of Drogba's petulance both on and off the pitch, both management and coaching are in agreement that moving forward without him will benefit for the club. "Drogba's uncertain role comes from the top," said the source, who didn't want to be identified for the story. "The management backed him when it came to Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari, not this time."
The Ivory Coast international has long maintained that his preference after leaving Chelsea would be to return to Ligue 1 side Marseille. Even though he only played one season with the club, Drogba has an emotional connection with both the team and its fans as he led the club to the UEFA Cup final in 2004. His jersey is also framed in Marseille's basilica, Notre-Dame de la Garde. But despite his attachment to the club, there are concerns that Marseille's current financial issues might prevent it from being able to afford Drogba's salary demands.
It is presumed that if Drogba decides to join MLS in 2012, he will be interested in MLS's major-market teams, the New York Red Bulls, Los Angeles Galaxy and Seattle Sounders. The two sources also said that he might be interested in the New York Cosmos if the franchise is approved by MLS. However, he wouldn't be able to play with the club until 2013.
While it might be questionable about whether or not Drogba can still help Chelsea win trophies, he would be a major boost to MLS. Part of his early struggles this season came from a bout with malaria that he contracted while visiting Africa. But when healthy and motivated, Drogba is still one of the top 10 strikers in the world. At 6-foot-2, he is that rare combination of height, pace and strength. He is deadly in set pieces as he can hit pinpoint free kicks and knock in goals off headers. And his ability to draw in multiple defenders allows him to create opportunities for his teammates, evidenced by his nine assists this season.
"Drogba still has a few good years left," one of the sources said, also on the condition of anonymity. "In MLS, he'd be a nightmare for most defenders."
Off the pitch, Drogba fits in well with MLS's desire for its designated players to be marketable. He's one of the game's most popular players, and he's also outspoken on global issues, especially in his native Ivory Coast. In 2006, he helped end a civil war in the country and returns often to assist in building hospitals and clinics.
For now, soccer fans will have to wait to see if Drogba becomes MLS's latest -- and perhaps most impactful -- acquisition yet.
Alex Labidou is a freelance writer based in New York City. You can reach him at twitter.com/@sportslab.