/ 7 September 2020

Controversy dogs Drogba’s top-job attempts

United States Of America V Netherlands : Final 2019 Fifa Women's World Cup France
LYON, FRANCE - JULY 07: Former footballer, Didier Drogba is seen in the stands prior to the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France Final match between The United States of America and The Netherlands at Stade de Lyon on July 07, 2019 in Lyon, France. (Photo by Marianna Massey - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A tweet from renowned football journalist and analyst Mamadou Gaye perhaps explains why Didier Drogba, a Côte d’Ivoire football legend, is having a headache submitting a bid to be elected president of the Ivorian Football Federation (FIF). 

“Drogba, you announced your retirement from football, your candidature for the Ivorian FA in France. Since your retirement in 2014, you did not watch a single match of the Elephants [a nickname for the national football team], nor an Ivorian league match. [And] suddenly you want to be a president of something you don’t know about,” Gaye, a brutal critic of Ivorian and African football, tweeted on June 8.

The gruelling campaign started on August 9 2019, when Drogba made public his intention of bidding for the Ivorian football top job. “I know Ivorian football well; I was in the national team for several years and worked with a lot of leaders,” the 42-year-old said.

But the celebrated forward has not been able to convince football stakeholders to back his vision for the Ivorian football association. According to FIF’s electoral requirements, Drogba needs endorsements from at least three of Côte d’Ivoire’s 14 division clubs, two from lower divisions, as well as backing from coaches, doctors, current and former players and referees in order to be eligible to run for the presidency.

Earlier last month, after a long battle to get sponsorships, Drogba submitted his files to FIF’s electoral commission. But he was informed he was not eligible to run because two names he had filled in as backers were ruled as not having the authority to do so. 

Authorities from Ivorian club Africa Sport and a body representing referees, AMAF-CI, had also rooted for the federation’s current vice-president Sory Diabaté, so the other factions could not go Drogba’s way. Diabaté, alongside Yacine Idriss Diallo, a former FIF third vice-president, are the only eligible candidates according to FIF, leaving Drogba and another candidate, Paul Koffi Kouadio, out.

Concerned that the electoral process may not be smooth and fair, Fifa, the world governing football body, ordered on August 27, the same day Drogba’s candidacy was dropped, that the electoral process be halted. It asked FIF to send all the documentations of the electoral process for examination.

With FIF’s embattled polls, Fifa’s intervention gives Drogba another chance. However, his reported shortcomings may dent his ambition.

Corroborating Gaye’s claims, a May 1 edition of football podcast Planet Sport Football Africa reported that Drogba is accused of being out of touch with Ivorian football, unlike his competitor Diabaté. Drogba was in Egypt for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations but never watched a single Côte d’Ivoire game, much less visited the players to encourage them, the programme disclosed. 

Diabaté, on the other hand, the head of the domestic league, has helped so many former footballers get jobs at FIF and helped them attain coaching licences for free, the programme said. The podcast also seconded claims that Drogba has not watched a local Ivorian league game since he retired in 2014.

These factors seemingly hold him back and put Diabaté ahead. However, Drogba does have the backing of a huge section of Ivorian football fans who, unfortunately for him, are not decision-makers. Perhaps they remember his role during his playing career with the Elephants. 

Drogba played more than 100 times for Côte d’Ivoire and scored 65 goals between 2002 and 2014, where he also participated in two World Cups: 2006 and 2010. How can football stakeholders forget all this so soon, along with the role he played in preventing Côte d’Ivoire from sliding into a civil war in 2005?

The Chelsea legend galvanised his teammates, after qualifying for their first World Cup in 2006 in Germany, to beg for unity among the warring factions in Côte d’Ivoire.

A civil war had broken out in the West African nation in 2002 when former president Laurent Gbagbo controlled the south of the country and a rebel faction called the New Forces of Côte d’Ivoire, manned by Guillaume Soro, patronised the north. The fighting subsided in 2004 but tensions were simmering in 2005.

But Drogba’s post-match plea, after winning the World Cup ticket in October 2005, helped to appease the division.

“Men and women of Côte d’Ivoire,” he started, “from the north, south, centre and west, we proved today that all Ivorians can coexist and play together with a shared aim — to qualify for the World Cup. The one country in Africa with so many riches must not descend into a war. Please lay down your weapons and hold elections,” Drogba, rounded by his jubilant teammates, made the appeal from their dressing room in Sudan, after playing against the nation.

Now that the country is facing challenges ahead of next month’s presidential polls, following President Alassane Ouattara’s decision to run for a third term, perhaps Drogba can play the uniting role again on a national scale if he gets the chance to run for the FIF polls.

Daniel Ekonde is a Cameroonian sports writer. This story first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.