April 13 – Former Ivory Coast, Chelsea and most recently Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba has become the biggest name to join US challenger league the USL, the second tier of professional football in the US.
\Drogba, a four-time Premier League champion and Champions League winner with Chelsea, is joining Arizona’s Phoenix Rising. He will be playing alongside Omar Bravo, Chivas de Guadalajara’s all-time highest goal-scorer, and former England international Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Phoenix Rising were only founded in 2014 but already have ambition to become an MLS side, potentially within three years. But the competition for franchise slots is fierce and financial requirements are in the range of $100 million to buy the franchise, a 20,000-plus capacity stadium and cash to build a team. Drogba has an equity stake in Phoenix Rising.
Phoenix Rising FC Governor Berke Bakay, praising the platform the USL gives to its teams, said: “Didier Drogba will help us express our appreciation for the tremendous partnership we have received from the League by serving as an ambassador for soccer on the pitch and within USL cities we will be visiting across North America.”
For his part Drogba is clear that this is the next stage of his career and the transition towards the end of his playing days. To go to Phoenix he turned down offers from China and talks about a return to Europe and even the Premier League.
In Phoenix he will take his coaching qualification preparing for his next job that could be management or a more commercial role in the club structure. “This is a transition for me,” he said. “It is time to prepare for the next stage of my life, to get everything ready for the next phase.”
Right now his playing focus for at least the next season, and perhaps one more after that, is to help Phoenix rise to the next level. “They called me and asked me to be the face of the franchise,” Drogba told the New York Times. “That was amazing for me.”
“I went to Phoenix and they showed me what they had presented to MLS, and the reaction they had got,” he said. “Everything is in place in the city and in the state. All that is missing now is that MLS status.”
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