MONTREAL -- Didier Drogba will return for preseason training with the Montreal Impact, but owner Joey Saputo stopped short of saying that the Chelsea legend will spend the entire 2016 season with the MLS club.
Drogba signed an 18-month contract with the Impact last summer. With 12 goals in 14 appearances, he led the Impact past Canadian rival Toronto FC in the first round of the 2015 playoffs before the CONCACAF Champions League runners-up lost in the Eastern Conference semifinal to Columbus.
But Drogba's second season with the Impact has been in doubt since he was spotted taking in a Chelsea match last month with owner Roman Abramovich and interim manager Guus Hiddink, who expressed interest in Drogba joining his staff.
Saputo acknowledged talks over Drogba's future but insisted that he never feared losing the Ivorian.
"We did have a discussion with Chelsea," Saputo confirmed Monday at Olympic Stadium as the Impact trained for the first time in 2016. "They would've liked to have seen him back with the organization. We spoke to Didier about the possibility that he wanted to think about his post-soccer career.
"He was committed to a contract and he was aware that he's under contract. So I'm happy that he decided to honor the contract."
But when pressed, Saputo would not confirm that Drogba would be with the club for the whole year.
"I can't answer that question," he said. "The expectation is that he's going to continue to be a pro. I don't have a feeling on whether he's not going to play, whether he's coming back because he has to come back."
On Sunday, Drogba announced via Twitter that he would spend the first part of Montreal's preseason working out with his personal trainer in Qatar. He is slated to join the Impact in Florida on Feb. 15.
"It's obvious that he feels he's a couple of weeks behind because of the situation," Saputo said. "When a player like that asks you, 'Listen, would it be possible?' I had no issue saying, 'Do what you need to do.'"
Whatever Drogba's future is in Montreal, Saputo said the club needs to prepare for life after he's gone. The striker will turn 38 a week into the new MLS season, which begins March 6.
"I think it's important for us to start planning the post-Didier era in Montreal," he said. "He's got one more year on his contract and I think it's important to start putting a team together and start looking at who will replace the player in the future.
"It's going to be difficult -- we caught lightning in a bottle with Didier. But it's not one player that makes this organization. "
Saputo also said in French that he spoke to Drogba "several times" over the last month.
Asked how the process has affected their relationship, Saputo said that while he still holds the Ivorian in the highest regard, he wasn't sure if things between them have changed.
"The relationship was excellent before," he said. "We'll see when he comes in."