It has finally happened. Didier Drogba, the legendary Ivorian striker, has signed with Phoenix Rising FC, the club confirmed today.
The deal will allow Rising FC to put Drogba on the pitch in the young 2017 campaign, before moving him to a technical role for the following two seasons. Terms were not disclosed, although as part of the deal, Drogba will transition to an executive role with Phoenix Rising’s MLS expansion bid.
An article in the Pioneer Press first linked the 39-year-old with the ambitious USL club on March 22, and a report by France Football claimed the deal was done as early as March 28th. Drogba’s agent, Thierno Seydi, denied the rumor on April 3.
“We want our club and our city to be synonymous with international excellence, and Didier Drogba is a testament to Phoenix Rising FC’s commitment to that mission,” said Phoenix Rising Club Governor Berke Bakay. “Soccer is an international language understood by sports fans all over the world, and we want to help inspire fluency among new fans every where we play throughout North America.”
As Phoenix Rising spends big on its “wow-factor”, the club is surely hoping to demonstrate its willingness to run with Major League Soccer’s biggest players, a tactic that will not be lost on MLS and its existing investors. MLS has accepted applications from Rising FC and 11 other groups for expansion, and intends to select two by the end of 2017.
“I have taken my time in deciding what I wanted to do next and am really excited about the opportunity at Phoenix Rising FC,” Drogba said. “After seeing first hand the potential for expansion of the sport in North America and getting to know the ownership group in Phoenix, I am convinced that I can help them develop their organization on and off the pitch. I look forward to their continued success in the USL, and no city is better positioned than Phoenix for expansion into the MLS.”
Fitting Drogba into the lineup might seem easy, but it might slow an already late-arriving chemistry that is badly needed by a club that did not score a goal in its first 240 minutes of regular season action this year. The team is not likely to sit high-profile acquisition Omar Bravo, but the former Mexican international’s age, coupled with Drogba’s, will call for excellent service from a midfield that is still finding its rhythm.
Drogba will of course be reunited with former Chelsea teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips, who is beginning to find his own role in the starting lineup. In addition to Chelsea, Drogba has played for several teams in France, famed Turkish team Galatasaray (the boyhood club of Phoenix Rising Governor Berke Bakay) as well as Chinese power Shanghai Shenua and Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact.