Many people can’t stand Didier Drogba. His marauding arrogance, his cowardly diving and his pathetic tantrums are not what fans- of Arsenal and Liverpool included- look for in their sporting heroes. In fact, if anything he’s been long vilified as the very embodiment of all that’s wrong with modern football. Overpaid, over-pampered, over-inflated and, seemingly, allowed to go unchecked. 50 years ago he’d have been sorted out by a clip round the ear, 40 years ago it would’ve been a dusting down from Billy Bremner, and 20 years ago, Vinnie Jones would’ve squeezed his balls.
And meanwhile, TV replays and referees would’ve stayed out of it; punters, pundits and protagonists would’ve batted no eyelids. But those days are long gone. Indeed, the notion of football as a man’s game played by men principally died the moment Roy Keane (rather viciously) snapped Alf-Inge Haaland’s knee into a million tiny pieces, and subsequently boasted about it in his best-selling autobiography. But an end to professional footballers’ self-regulation – to the honourable man’s unwritten code of conduct – wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. The culmination of the last millennium also witnessed other, significantly better things.
Namely, a growth in the strength and depth of our topflight, distinguished by a vibrant brand of fast-paced attacking football played by a cash rich generation of superstars from all corners of the globe. As such, its appeal has spread like wild-fire across the planet. Behind the success of our mass-exported football product is not only a new wave of multi-national, multi-millionaire players, but a fresh, innovative brand of tactical ideologies. While “four-four-f**king-two” may have worked in the fictional world of Mike Bassett, it seldom cuts the mustard for the 21st century’s real-life coaching glitterati.
It’s not so much that Drogba defines modern tactics, it’s that his very complete set of attributes best serve the popular system of modern times
And this is where Monsieur Drogba comes in. With his imposing presence and dynamic power, Chelsea’s temperamental former talisman - reviled and revered in equal measures - emerged as the prototype centre forward of the Noughties. In a contemporary system that plays in five phases up the field rather than the traditional lines of defence, midfield and attack, a multi-faceted frontman is integral. No longer do master tacticians build their teams around a playmaker. Nowadays, the key man is the lone ranger up top. Whether your team sets up in the conservative 4-5-1, the expansively wide 3-6-1, the Christmas tree 4-3-2-1 or world football’s latest tactical zeitgeist: 4-2-3-1, all share a common denominator – all rely on a multi-tasking lone striker. In other words, all rely on a Drogba.
It’s not so much that Drogba defines modern tactics, it’s that his very complete set of attributes best serve the popular system of modern times. He’s not just in vogue, he is vogue; the very blueprint for the rest to aspire to. Strong as an ox, but with pace to burn, a silky touch and that killer instinct in front of goal. He holds it up, lays it off, presses, defends, turns, heads, shoots, works the channels and leads the line. He also boasts his own unique dead-ball technique, using a piercing side-footed motion to generate a lethal top-spin trajectory. If it rolled off the tongue slightly smoother, there might be a film called ‘Top-spin it like Drogba.’ Thankfully, it doesn’t.
The epitome of the neo-striker, Didier Drogba represents the latest milestone in the evolution of football’s most prestigious position. With the role of the striker morphing from the poaching primadonna of yesteryear to a multi-skilled workhorse, there’s an argument that legendary goalscorers of previous generations such as the bustling Nat Lofthouse, the slithery Jimmy Greaves or the clever Ian Rush, would be deemed inferior to this latest all-encompassing prototype. All of these legends reigned supreme in a less supreme environment. None had as many complete attributes as Drogba.
Drogba’s lucrative summer move to China has turned sour
Drogba is a modern day example of what Arrigo Sacchi called a universal player: those able to play not just one specific role related to the number on his back, but expected to be more fluid and adaptable – to cover several roles with the system. The combination of all of these attributes means that the big Ivorian, even at the ripe old age of 34, is a sought after commodity right now. He may not be as dynamic as he was five years ago, but you only have to cast your mind back to this May – when he scored in the FA Cup and Champions League finals and led his team to improbable glory in each – to realise that he still has plenty to offer the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal, who are set to compete for his signature in the coming weeks.
Drogba’s lucrative summer move to China has turned sour. His contract is about to be torn up by Shanghai Shenhua, even though he has maintained a goal-a-game ratio since his arrival in the Far East. The Chinese Super League side are set to run out of money due to an equity dispute between board members, and so will need to ship their £200,000 per week star out quick-sharp. Furthermore, once he’s a free agent he is not bound by a transfer window, and could sign for one of the aforementioned suitors at any time.
A lot of people can’t stand Didier Drogba. But even so, as some of the Premier League’s big guns prepare a bid for his services, I get the feeling you won’t find many Arsenal or Liverpool fans bemoaning their team’s interest in this most fashionable talent. Because behind the sulking, the stropping and the dummy-spitting, is a unique footballer, who, granted a return to the league he loves, will continue to pave the way for a new class of centre forward.
Ben Cove is Editor of Bet.Unibet.com. Read more from him here: http://bet.unibet.com/user/50/articles
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