The final act of Didier Drogba’s football (playing) career begins tonight in the Arizona desert as Phoenix Rising FC take on Portland Timbers 2 in the opening round of the 2018 United Soccer League (USL) Playoffs — you can watch it streaming live on ESPN+ (USA) or YouTube (international); kick-off is at 10:30pm EDT / 7:30pm local time.
“I joke with people that they need to give me the cup, so I can retire in peace. And that if I don’t get it, I’ll come back.
“But the truth is, this is my last season. And now the playoffs are here. That cup that [Club Governor] Berke [Bakay] texted me a photo of years ago is within sight.
“Maybe we win. Maybe we don’t. God will decide that.
“But whatever we do, from the owners to the front office, to the players, to the fans… we’ll do it together.
“We’ll rise as one.”
Phoenix finished third in the Western Conference of the USA’s second tier competition, which means they host the sixth place team to begin the single-elimination playoffs to determine the league’s ultimate winner — there is no promotion or relegation in US soccer, though Phoenix are on the short list of candidates who are in consideration for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion slot.
Drogba hasn’t played much this year, as the “after-football” parts of his career already began to take center stage. Of course that was all part of the plan when he became part of the new ownership group at the rebranded Arizona United in 2017, bringing his name and his influence to the team as they began their journey towards relevance.
Still, amid schmoozing with FIFA head honchos, working the studio for the BBC’s World Cup coverage, working with the Special Olympics, attending business meetings all around the world, and working for his foundation in Côte d’Ivoire, he still managed to find the back of the net 4 times in 8 appearances during the 34-game regular season. That gives him 13 goals in 22 total appearances in Phoenix colors, including last year’s elimination in this same first round against Swope Park Rangers. Drogba scored in that match but Phoenix were shot down on penalties.
However far Phoenix rise in this year’s playoffs, that’s how much time there is left for Didier on the pitch. He joked earlier this year that he might go and play for Frank Lampard at Derby County, but he’s set to follow through on his retirement just as he announced around this time last year. He could probably still play, despite turning the big 4-0 in March, but his heart is now more into all his “other projects”. One of those projects even includes being a global ambassador for Chelsea and Yokohama, though if he ever wanted to take a more active role at Stamford Bridge, the club’s doors certainly would be wide open for him.
Patrice Carteron on Drogba: “Even at 40, if he had the same desire, he could play in Europe and the big clubs again. His determination and work ethic would allow that.”https://t.co/0ivSGj9o2g— James Poling (@James_Poling) October 18, 2018
For now, all eyes on Scottsdale Soccer Complex for what may be Drogba’s final act. Or the beginning of his final act. We’re certainly not betting against him.
“To succeed in my career, I had to fight. I’m the proof that hard work beats talent. You have talent? Great, keep it. Keep your talent. I don’t care. Because I’m going to work until I surpass you. I’m never going to give up.”