Didier Drogba has opted to extend his playing career, announcing he’s signed with Phoenix Rising FC on Wednesday.
The Arizona-based club, currently in its fourth season with the United Soccer League (USL), has designs on joining Major League Soccer in the coming years of expansion.
Drogba intends to help them see out that goal. The 39-year-old Ivorian will play for the club before transitioning to an executive role.
“After seeing first hand the potential for expansion of the sport in North America and getting to know the ownership group in Phoenix, I am convinced that I can help them develop their organization on and off the pitch,” Drogba said in a team statement. “I look forward to their continued success in the USL, and no city is better positioned than Phoenix for expansion into the MLS.”
Drogba’s role as a player and part-owner is certainly unusual, but the former Chelsea player says he’s spoken with Blues owner Roman Abramovic about taking on a front-office role.
— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) April 12, 2017
“I have spoken many times with Roman Abramovich, not only on this occasion, and trust me it’s not easy to be an owner. He supports me,” Drogba said, via The Mirror.
The unique opportunity proved to be too much for Drogba to pass up, though.
“It’s a big project and they offered me the chance to become co-owner with my experience and knowledge from football for all these years as a player, to help the club to grow and become a big part of the MLS,” he said.
There are major hurdles when it comes to getting the Div. II club into the top-flight of American soccer, however. Biggest of all is competition, of course. MLS intends to expand to another four teams for the 2020 season, and there are 12 teams vying for those spots — including St. Louis, whose bid is murky at the moment.
Phoenix has the investors, land for a stadium and now a big-name (with apologies to Omar Bravo and Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose profiles aren’t nearly as prominent as Drogba’s) player/co-owner on board. Their next big step will be securing the funding and approval for a stadium to build on the previously mentioned land. That’s a big ask, though.
Still, having Drogba on board only helps raise the profile of the club. Now, let’s see if he can help steer the USL club to their ultimate goals.