Last week, Time magazine featured Didier Drogba in its annual issue dedicated to the “most influential” people on the planet. No doubt many of the magazine’s subscribers in America will have absolutely no idea who the Ivory Coast footballer is – much less why he deserves a spot on the magazine’s iconic cover right next to Bill Clinton and Lady Gaga.
But that doesn’t take away from Drogba’s global influence – or the incredible burden he carries as this summer’s World Cup in South Africa approaches.
Coming off perhaps the best season of his career – at an age when most would be past their prime – the 32-year-old human locomotive is Africa’s best and most recognized player at a time when the continent is hosting its very first World Cup. Africa is crying out for a World Cup winner. There have been a few Cinderella stories in the past – namely Cameroon and Senegal. But Africa has been waiting for one of their own to mount a legitimate challenge for the trophy – and with Drogba, Solomon Kalou and the Toure brothers in their lineup, the Ivory Coast represents the continent’s best shot to date.
Unfortunately, Lady Luck has not done Ivory Coast any favors by dumping them in the same first-round group as Brazil, Portugal, and North Korea. That may give neutral supporters a bunch of mouth-watering fixtures, but if there is a Group of Death in this year’s tournament then this is surely it. The one advantage for the Ivorians is that even though they will be 3,000 miles from home, they will no doubt feel like they are playing in their home ground. I was in Tanzania last summer and I cannot tell you how many Drogba and Toure shirts I saw people wearing even in that country. All of Africa considers these players their own.
More than any other player, Didier Drogba is the toast – and the envy – of Africa. He has succeeded in a world that most in the Ivory Coast can’t even dream of. And throughout his illustrious career, Drogba has not lost sight of where he came from. Late last year he donated £3 million to fund a hospital in his home country. (Check out exclusive video from the benefit here.) Drogba has also long believed that his sport can play some kind of role in resolving his nation’s political problems. But Drogba’s greatest contribution to his nation and his continent would come should he lead the Ivory Coast into the latter stages of the tournament, and maybe upset Brazil along the way.
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