Drogba unifying figure on home soil

Ivory Coast's captain Didier Drogba lies on the field after losing a goal during a friendly...

Ivory Coast's captain Didier Drogba lies on the field after losing a goal during a friendly football match against Paraguay on May 30, 2010 in Evian-les-Bains, eastern France. (PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:30 PM ET

Amid the bustling streets and bright lights of London, rabid Chelsea supporters consider Didier Drogba a star.

That’s nothing.

Back home in his native country of Ivory Coast, he is even more highly revered than that.

There, in a land where political unrest and poverty are household terms, Didier Drogba is viewed as a legend, both on the pitch and off.

He comes by the adulation honestly.

He is, after all, the most unifying figure his country has.

A global philanthropist, he is a long-time vocal backer of HIV/Aids education in Africa.

He is even laying the groundwork, through the Didier Drogba foundation, for building a hospital in Ivory Coast, a country that desperately needs medical facilities.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many consider him to be the most popular player in continental Africa, meaning he’ll have the home team advantage and support at World Cup 2010 even though the event is being held in South Africa, not Ivory Coast.

Interestingly, while Drogba will be feeling the love from African fans, the muscular striker actually spent most of his formative years growing up in France, first with his uncle, then in the suburbs of Paris when his parents eventually moved there.

That fact won’t cool off the support Drogba will have at South Africa 2010. Far from it.

During the 2008 African Cup of Nations, Drogba took over the dual role of player-coach for Ivory Coast. It was an admirable display of loyalty fans across the African continent will not soon forget.

With Drogba’s magical boot leading the way, the Ivory Coast side, backed by the South African fans, will prove to be a dangerous foe for anyone lining up against it.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? Ivory Coast was done no favours by the draw, ending up in the Group of Death alongside tournament favourites Brazil and talented Portugal.

It is a challenge Drogba welcomes.

“If we want to reach the final, we will have to beat the big nations ... why not start in Round 1?” the gifted striker said.

Why not indeed?

After all, when Didier Drogba puts his mind to it, history shows that he is a very difficult man to stop, whether it be scoring goals or building hospitals.

- - -

THE DROGBA FILE

Name: Didier Drogba, 32
Forward, Ivory Coast
Club Team: Chelsea
International Resume: 66 caps, 42 goals
Did you know?: That Drogba is so popular, he has a beer named after him. Cheers, Didier!


Videos

Photos