Africa’s Number 1by Andy Davis / 27.01.2010
In case you hadn’t noticed, the World Cup is happening, Didier Drogba’s face is painted on the Johannesburg skyline in lights, beaming out to us the message that the football gods are coming. A nightly reminder on Jozi’s face. Africa’s greatest football star. The dark continent’s leading light. Destroyer of Premiership dreams, humbler of defenders everywhere. Africa’s number one goal digger. Football’s most lethal assassin in front of goal. It’s quite a significant step to have Didier Drogba’s mug plastered 100 meters high wrapped around a building and lit up each night. What other African hero has been celebrated with such a monument. Not even Madiba has (yet) been immortalised on a billboard this size. Granted the Nike ad will run its course and be replaced when the outdoor marketing budget runs out, but right now, it’s cool to see one of Africa’s finest exports lionised in this way. Would have been poetic if the space had been dedicated to Benni McCarthy’s mug, but really he hasn’t done nearly enough to deserve it.
Truth is I used to despise Didier Drogba, primarily for the misery he has inflicted on me, by scoring important goals against my beloved Arsenal, season after season. But as the years roll by, and the goals kept coming, my revulsion turned slowly to a begrudging respect and has now blossomed to a semi-proud African admiration of Mr Drogba. Yes, I still hate him when he seems to crush our title ambitions with an insolent flick of his head that inevitably directs the ball beyond Almunia’s fingers and into the top right corner of the goal. But unlike so many of Africa’s public figures, Drogba is consistently and dependably brilliant. And even though in the grand scheme of things he’s only a football player, he is a very public African example of excellence. Undisputed. I wish Drogba played for Bafana.
But it’s more than just a killer instinct in front of goal, African football players have been dominating their European counterparts for decades already, while creating dynasties back in the Motherland with their earnings. But Didier Yves Drogba Tebily is more than just a successful footballer. He is an unlikely global footballing hero, having only signed his first professional contract aged 21. Born in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire he was sent to live with his uncle, Michel Goba, a professional footballer, in Paris at the age of 5. He disliked the French capital and returned to Abidjan aged 8 due to homesickness. He played football everyday in a car park near his parent’s house in Abidjan before the whole family immigrated to Paris when he was 15. His complicated family life meant that he never got to attend a footballing academy. When he finished school he moved to Le Mans and studied accountancy while playing as an amateur for the 2nd division team of the same name. His first two years were hampered by regular injuries, but he soon overcame those and managed to play regularly and start scoring. By the middle of the 2001 – 2002 season his performances piqued the interest of Ligue 1 team Guingamp who made a move for Drogba. In his first full season at Guingamp he scored 17 times in 34 appearances and helped the team finish 7th. He was soon signed by top flight French team Olympique Marseille. IN his first season at Marseille he scored 19 goals in the league and won the Ligue de Football Professionnel’s Player of the Year. He also scored 5 goals in the UEFA Champions League and 6 in the UEFA Cup. The next year, 2004, one of Jose Mourinho’s first inspired acts as the new Chelsea boss was to sign Drogba for a cool £24 million, making him the most expensive Cote d’Ivoire player in history. He has been central to Chelsea’s title and cup ambitions ever since.
But it’s not just football for the man who earns around £90 000 a week, not to mention product endorsements and sponsorships. In 2007 he was made a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador and in 2009, after signing an endorsement deal with Pepsi he donated the full £3 million fee towards building a hospital in Abidjan. Chelsea then jumped on board and donated their fee for the deal to the project, through the newly founded Didier Drogba Foundation. Didier is famously quoted as 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.”
So next time you drive past the Jozi skyline heading South on the M1, look East over the city’s twinkling lights and, no matter how much pain he’s inflicted on your team over the years, smile at Drogba, Africa’s number 1 footballing assassin.