Drogba says it is not about me, it is about Ivory Coast
JOHANNESBURG - The Associated Press
Despite being largely regarded as the most prominent player in African football, forward Didier Drogba says he is just a member of the Ivory Coast national side and says the team does not revolve around him anymore. REUTERS photoIvory Coast captain Didier Drogba doesn’t believe the team revolves around him anymore. The team’s fans think otherwise.
The Ivorians arrived in South Africa to begin another desperate quest for a long-awaited African Cup of Nations title.
The tournament favorites were showered with flowers by noisy, drum-beating fans at a small airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Even with African player of the year Yaya Toure and other high-profile stars in Ivory Coast’s powerful squad, Drogba was still the one the hundreds of fans clamored to see.
In bright orange T-shirts, the supporters pushed up against metal security fences to touch the tall striker and offer him flowers as he walked past them and onto the team bus.
One woman, with an Ivorian flag wrapped around her waist, fell to the ground and moaned, “Drogba, Drogba,” as the bus pulled away.
Africa’s best player for probably the last decade, Drogba is now 34 and has touched down at what many expect will be his last African Cup. He’ll be nearly 37 when the next one rolls around. Even so, Drogba said he wouldn’t let his unfulfilled desire for the international title that will complement a glorious club career distract the Ivorian team this month.
“I’m not thinking about myself, I’m thinking about the team,” he said.
Ivory Coast, despite its rich recent talent, hasn’t won the continental championship in over 20 years. “There’s no pressure at all,” he added after being asked if his time was running out. “I think we still have time.”
Drogba wouldn’t even get into the business of his club career, and whether a move back to Europe from China was an imminent possibility.
“The focus for me is the African Cup,” he said, “so I don’t want to speak about what’s happening in China.”
In the next few days, the team will meet Togo, Algeria and Tunisia in Group D.
“It’s a tough group,” Drogba said, “but if you want to win it, you have to face the best.”
Toure and coach Sabri Lamouchi also indicated the players were aware of but not overburdened by the expectation again placed on Africa’s top-ranked team, which has had a string of heart-breaking near misses in recent African Cups.
Toure said the Ivorians “have to be as strong as possible.”
Coach Lamouchi, speaking through a translator, said: “We are here for a mission.”