Didier Drogba – The Charity King
At the end of every World Cup many greats of the game retire from international football. This year too, the trend has continued. Tébily Didier Yves Drogba is one of the players to hang up his boots after Brazil 2014. We won’t be seeing him take the field again wearing the Cote D’Ivoire shirt. Cote D’IvoireWhile he is more famous for his heroics with Chelsea FC, where he spent most of his football career and was voted by fans as their best ever player, he is also a legend in his own rights just as an Cote D’Ivoire player, and possibly their greatest. We look back at the man’s international career and his contributions to his country both on and off the field.
We start with mapping Drogba’s journey to global superstardom. Drogba was born in 1978 in Abidjan, the capital of Cote D’Ivoire. Like many African countries, Cote D’Ivoire was and still is a poor country. Drogba and his family were poor and had to work hard for everything. His mother nicknamed him as “Tito”, because his Mother used to admire the then Yugoslavia President Broz Tito. In the early days of childhood, he spent most of his time with his uncle Michel Goba, a professional footballer who was playing in France that time. Drogba started his schooling in France at the age of five and also used to play football there. When he was eight years old, he was sent back to home to his parents. However his parents were not well off financially having lost their jobs. As a result, they again sent him back to France under the wings of his uncle. From there on his journey as a footballer started. In the beginning, he used to play as a right back. But his uncle advised him to play upfront by saying-“What are you doing stuck back there? Get up front! In football, people only look at the strikers”. He followed his uncle’s instruction (in hindsight it was a sound advice) switched to playing as a Centre- Forward.
At the age of 15, he signed a contract with Levallois where he began his professional career. In 1998, after completing his schooling, he joined Le Mans, a club playing in the French 2nd division. He was 21 at that time. By this age players of Drogba’s ability are already picked up by bigger clubs, hence he’s called a “late bloomer”. In four years he moved to En Avant Guingamp where he scored 24 goals in one and half seasons. His impressive form attracted interest from top clubs and Olympique de Marseille signed him for the next season. There he scored loads of goals and went on to become the Ligue 1 Player of the year. His performances earned him a move to Chelsea FC in the next season for a transfer fee of £24 million. This is a record for any African player which stands till date. This move started his emergence as a global superstar, we all know of his exploits with Chelsea.
While he was playing for Le Mans, he made his International debut in 2002 against South Africa. He scored his first International goal in 2003 vs Cameroon. He became the Ivorian Captain in the Year 2006 and continued to be so till his recently announced retirement. He took “Les Elephants” to their first ever World Cup in 2006. He has played in three World Cups where he has scored twice (One against Argentina in 2006 and the other one against Brazil in 2010). He has also captained his country in four ‘African Cup of Nations’. In 2006, he scored the winner in their 1-0 win over Nigeria in the Semi-final of African Cup of Nations. He missed a penalty in the Shoot-out in the final against Egypt. He missed a penalty in 2012 African Cup of Nations Final too. In 2014, He made his 100th appearance against Bosnia and Herzegovina (friendly match) and scored a goal from penalty. His last tournament was the 2014 World Cup.
His International retirement will surely create a void in his National Team. He won 104 caps for his National Team and scored 65 goals, a record for Cote D’Ivoire. He won African Footballer of the Year twice (2006, 2009), Cote D’Ivoire Player of the year thrice (2006, 2007, 2012)..
Drogba made his mark for Ivory Coast not only as a player but as an individual as well. He played a vital role in bringing peace to his country. After the Cote D’Ivoire qualified for the 2006 World Cup, Drogba made a desperate appeal to the enemies, asking them to put down their arms, an appeal that was answered with an end of five years of civil war. On 24 January 2007, Drogba was selected by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a Goodwill Ambassador. In September 2011, Drogba joined the Truth, Reconciliation and Dialogue Commission as a delegate to assist return peace to his home nation. His involvement in the peace process led to him being named as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine in 2010. Drogba’s charity work continued when, in late 2009, he decided that he would be donating the £3 million signing on fee for his endorsement contract with Pepsi for building a hospital in his hometown of Abidjan. This work was done through Drogba’s “Didier Drogba Foundation” and Chelsea FC announced that they too would donate the fee for the Pepsi deal toward the Foundation’s project. Drogba decided to build the hospital after a trip to the Ivorian capital’s other hospitals, saying “… I decided the Foundation’s first project should be to build and fund a hospital giving people basic healthcare and a chance just to stay alive“.
Drogba also made an indirect contribution to Levallois SC, the amateur club where Drogba began his career. They used their percentage of his transfer fees £24 transfer fee from Chelsea, to ensure the club’s survival, and then to improve their stadium to incorporate modern sports facilities for the benefit of the local community. They renamed the new stadium Stade Didier Drogba in his honour. He has donated money for sick and poor African Children. He got appreciation for his noble endeavours from former England Captain and Chelsea team mate John Terry-“Didier is doing an amazing job. The way he is affected by the sick children, you can tell that he really cares and that he really wants to help. He loves his country and his country loves him”. Gervinho, his national team mate, mentioned that Drogba has been an example for many Ivorians. The Sun, an English Daily stated him as “a man who has taken on the responsibility of rebuilding his entire country“.
Drogba has seen the pain of poor, war-affected people of Cote D’Ivoire. Hence he is determined to do his all to bring to Ivorian children in all that he missed in his childhood in Cote D’Ivoire. He is a symbol of hope and peace in Cote D’Ivoire. He speaks for masses unlike many other influential persons who use their power for political interest. People admire him as their idol. They dress like him, they write songs about him, their life stop when he plays. He has made Cote D’Ivoire a better place to live for common people. His achievements as a player has been great, but what he has done for the poverty-stricken, war torn Cote D’Ivoire will never be forgotten. He is a great ambassador for his country who can justifiably be named as “The Charity King”. He said in an interview, “I have won many trophies in my time, but nothing will ever top helping win the battle for peace in my country. I am so proud because today in the Cote D’Ivoire we do not need a piece of silverware to celebrate“. We and his country will miss him in international football, but his impact off the field will continue to have a lasting effect on his country. We wish the best to Didier in his journey to make Cote D’Ivoire and the world a better place.