I admittedly spend most of the regular season being annoyed by Didier Drogba. This can be attributed mostly to my intense hate of Chelsea, a hate, which by default, extends itself to many of their players. However, as a strange type of backwards compliment to the awful feelings that rock me when I watch him score for a club that I abhor possibly more than I love my own, there is also a rather peculiar affection that I feel for the stony-eyed Ivorian that runs deep. Actually, it’s much more than affection, if I’m honest. It’s a feeling that swells inside me whenever I see him in Ivorian orange – one of those feelings so strong that it reassures you, makes you think ‘ah, this is indeed the beautiful game.’
It must be the shocking sort of contrast that one finds within Drogba that I find most curious. And elusive. One never really knows what to expect from a man who is capable of being a beacon of hope for an entire nation, credited with being the trigger that ended a civil war, while also being the same man who slapped an opposing player possibly driving his club to lose the Champions League final in 2008. The diving of course doesn’t help his case (‘sometimes I dive, sometimes I stand’). His thuggish, inappropriate behaviour on the pitch is both incessant and unforgivable: who can forget the infamous ‘it’s a f***ing disgrace’ comment he yelled at a referee he didn’t quite agree with.
Despite the negativity that tends to surround Drogba sometimes, the sinking feeling among lovers of good football everywhere regardless of club affiliation had to have been mutual when news that Drogba had broken his arm in a pre-World Cup warm up friendly against Japan broke. Africa’s best footballer would be missing at Africa’s World Cup – a real shame. For me, it was far more selfish: I just really wanted to watch him play. My favourite are the looks he drills into opponents. They are never colder, more cruel or determined as when he takes the pitch in Ivorian colours. Drobga simply turns into a wall of strength when he lines up for his country.
We all knew that in addition to being their best and most creative player, Drogba was the emotional leader that Les Éléphants would struggle to replace. And although he had been ruled out of the tournament by most when news of injury broke, like a plot line out of a movie, Didier managed to be fit enough to stay in Sven Goran-Eriksson’s squad today. He spent most of his time during Ivory Coast’s opener against Portugal on the bench, however, wincing at every chance that the Portuguese took on goal, the camera cutting to him practically as often as if he were on the pitch itself. After being subbed in late in the second half, he wasn’t able to make a meaningful impact on the game itself. Aside from a run into the box resulting in a cross that none of his teammates could quite get on the end of, there wasn’t much of the magic we expect from Drogba. The mental impact on his teammates, however, must have been immense. With every step he took and the laboured yet determined way he carried his injured arm, you felt the hearts of football fans everywhere lighten just a little bit. These are the moments that encapsulate what the world cup is all about: sacrifice and overcoming.