Drogba Signing Puts Buzz Back in Montreal

Drogba will help sell jerseys and tickets in Montreal. But what kind of impact will he have on the field? At 37 years old, it could go a number of ways.

by Daniel Squizzato
Jul 28 2015, 3:39pm

Photo by Dylan Martinez-Reuters

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports Canada.

Back in February, Joey Saputo—the mercurial owner of the Montreal Impact—lamented that the buzz for his Major League Soccer franchise was gone. A last-place finish will do that to a team, after all.

Then, on Monday, Saputo did something that, as recently as a few years ago, would have seemed impossible: He signed Didier Drogba. Yes, that Didier Drogba.

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The man who led Chelsea to Premier League and Champions League glory, the man who helped turn Ivory Coast into a heavyweight of African soccer. Hell, he's the man credited with single-handedly ending a civil war—and now, a French-speaking global star who'll suit up to play in la belle province.

Yeah, it's safe to say the buzz is back.

Beyond Montreal, however, the mood hasn't necessarily been quite as rapturous.

To the league's detractors, Drogba's move—the latest in a string of high-profile arrivals—is another sign that MLS is just a landing spot for aging stars looking to jog their way to one final paycheque.

So far this season, we've seen Kaka arrive in Orlando, Steven Gerrard land in Los Angeles and expansion side New York City FC assemble a soccer Cerberus of David Villa, Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. Despite their unimpeachable CVs, they're all on the wrong side of 30; Drogba is the elder statesman, having turned 37 years old in March.

They come to the league on designated player contracts, a rule introduced in 2007 to allow David Beckham to ink a five-year deal with the L.A. Galaxy. He was followed by the likes of Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane, which created the stereotype that DP deals were simply for 30-somethings with global branding appeal.

The truth is that over 100 players have signed DP deals in the last eight years, with varying levels of success. Recently, MLS clubs have turned more focus towards stars in their prime (Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Bradley in Toronto) and promising youngsters (Fabian Castillo in Dallas and Octavio Rivero in Vancouver).

Let's also remember that Henry and Keane, who arrived in their 30s, hardly treated their MLS tenures like vacations. Henry put in five excellent years in New York, while Keane is currently in his fifth productive season in L.A.

It's true that those two sold plenty of jerseys and tickets based on their name value alone, but they also helped lead their respective clubs to success and silverware.

Back to Drogba, though. He'll sell jerseys and tickets, no question. But what will he be willing and able to bring on the field of play?

That's up to him, of course. But if you're assuming he'll simply be going through the motions in Montreal, after capping his remarkable Chelsea career with another Premier League crown, consider the case of Marco di Vaio.

In 2011, di Vaio—a striker with a long, established career with various Italian clubs—declared his desire to finish his career at Bologna, his team at the time. By the summer of 2012, di Vaio was done with Bologna and could have fulfilled that goal, by retiring.

Instead, Saputo coaxed a then 36-year-old di Vaio into signing on as Montreal's first-ever designated player. He played the following two-and-a-half seasons with vigour and passion, scoring 34 league goals and retiring as a hero in Montreal.

Again, there's no guarantee about what Drogba will do. But just months ago, he was part of the top team in the Premier League. Unless some physical calamity has befallen him since then, it's safe to say he's still got some gas in the tank.

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If he's motivated to perform—massive ovations from the home crowd will help provide such motivation, surely—he definitely could help the Impact bounce back from a disastrous 2014 campaign and get back into the MLS playoffs.

The positive energy from this signing won't last forever. The move will only pay long-term dividends for Saputo and company if this renewed buzz helps lead to ongoing success on the field and at the box office.

Of course, the same goes for Kaka in Orlando, Gerrard in L.A. and the big names in the Bronx. It's still too early to form any conclusions about what lasting effect those players will have with their respective clubs.

But whatever this particular signing may or may not mean in the fascinating, ongoing evolution of MLS, let's just be honest enough to admit one thing: Didier Drogba playing for a Canadian club, at any age, is a mighty cool prospect indeed.