Chelsea legend Didier Drogba has become football's first ever player-owner after agreeing to take the reigns at newly-established MLS franchise Phoenix Rising, having consulted with current Blues own Roman Abramovich, according to a report in The Sun .
The 39-year-old will move to Arizona to ply his trade, having rejected apparent overtures from several Premier League clubs to continue his playing career, as well as from current Chelsea boss Antonio Conte to become part of his backroom staff.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) 12 April 2017
Drogba was quick to allay fears that his dual role at the club would detract from his playing capabilities, insisting that: “As far as the coaching aspect goes, I’m there as a player. There’s no way I can say to the manager that he has to play me. I’m not going to interfere in his decisions or his responsibilities.
“As a co-owner, I will have a say on things like new signings and making proposals about what is best for the club.
“I will carry on playing but my main focus is building and helping Phoenix to become a big team in the MLS.”
Drogba, who was adept at convincing the likes of Eden Hazard and Eric Bailly to move to the Premier League, will be hoping to performing similar feats for his new club and assembling a prize-winning squad.
Despite negotiations having commenced around seven months ago, the opportunity to assume a dual role was only recently included into the talks, and Drogba is clearly relishing the challenge.
“It’s a bigger challenge than anything I’ve done in my career and different to what people maybe expected me to do. I spoke many times with Roman Abramovich and, trust me, it’s not easy to be an owner of a football club," he said.
“I had offers to carry on playing in the Premier League, the Championship, the Middle East, China and South America.
“There are options to go back to Chelsea but I want to be there because I have the qualities required to help the club in a positive way, not just to be there because I played for them in the past.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) 6 April 2017
“There were offers from other Prem clubs but to go to anyone was else was impossible because, for me, there is only one club in England.
“It was strange coming back to Stamford Bridge when I was at Galatasaray and I didn’t want to experience that again.
“I am always going to be close to Chelsea. We have a history together and whenever they need me I will always be ready to help them one way or another.
“Roman called me last season and asked me to speak to the players when they were going through difficult moments. It was difficult for me to see the team struggling like that and, of course, I wanted to help.
The Ivorian also admitted that the forthcoming season may be his last as a professional player:
“We have a young team so it will be difficult for me to keep my place.
“I’m 39 now and I’m not that fast any more. But I can still find the goal, which is the most important thing.
“It will be nice to play again with Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has been at Phoenix for the past few months and is going to show me the city and help me get my bearings.
“I will need time to get ready. I can’t do crazy things like when I was 25 and could train for one week then go into the team."
Phoenix Rising are currently plying their trade in the USL Pro League, but do have ambitions to be an MSL outfit by 2020 and are co-owned, amongst others, by Grammy-winning producer Diplo, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, LA Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and restaurant magnate Berke Bakay.
Drogba explained: “I’ve visited Phoenix in recent months and was surprised by the amount of autographs and selfies I got asked for. I didn’t think anyone knew who I was so I’m amazed that news of this venture didn’t leak out.
“I want to help to grow the game in America. The challenge is there and I’m excited to be part of this process.”