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It’s been a very bizarre path to MLS for Didier Drogba.
Since joining the Montreal Impact halfway through last season, Drogba made an immediate impact, scoring 11 goals in just nine starts. While he cooled off in the playoffs, Drogba was still considered the top player on Montreal. This season, he has somewhat relinquished that title to Ignacio Piatti, and while his 10 goals and six assists in 22 appearances for the Impact are nothing to snuff at, they aren’t the incredible stats he put up last season.
Additionally, like other former European stars who came before him, Drogba has seen his fair share of troubles in MLS. He famously does not play on turf, and has admitted that the coast to coast travel adds a difficult element to the league. At 38 years old, he has also dealt with his fair share of injuries since arriving with Montreal. However, Sunday’s reason for Drogba sitting out is perhaps one of the most bizarre of his short career in Montreal.
Impact manager Mauro Biello confirmed that this weekend, he intended to leave Drogba out of the starting lineup in Montreal’s massive rivalry match against Toronto FC. Drogba responded by telling Biello that if he wouldn’t be starting, he wouldn’t be playing, and opted to remain outside of Montreal’s game day roster for their biggest regular season game of the year.
Normally, it would seem crazy to leave Drogba out of a starting lineup in MLS, but the 2016 Drogba we’ve seen suiting up for Montreal this season simply isn’t the Champions’ League-winning striker of the past that fans expect. Consider this, when Drogba starts this season for Montreal, the team is 2-7-8. When he doesn’t start, they are 8-3-5. Clearly, this Impact team has demonstrated that they are better without their highest paid player.
Additionally, rumors have swirled lately that Napoli, currently the fifth place squad in Serie A, are going to make a shock move for Drogba, in hopes of bolstering their banged up striking corps. While there’s no denying Serie A is a better league quality wise than MLS, it remains to be seen if Drogba is interested in such a move, as it seems he is enjoying the relative lack of pressure and anonymity that comes with a career in MLS.
However, if the option is available for the Impact to ship off their 38-year old striker to southern Italy, they should probably take it. Drogba is slated to make more than $2 million this year, making him easily the highest paid player on the Impact roster. Despite his paycheck, it seems the team is better without him, who has been criticized for his lack of attention to defense and inability to appear consistently for the Canadian club.
While there was certainly a time where the Impact needed Drogba as a star name to give their club some sort of legitimacy, it appears that time has passed for Montreal. The Impact need to solve their problems by winning, and as one of the oldest teams in MLS, that will probably come at the expense of Drogba, whose bloated salary could pay for a number of solid young players who likely would not refuse to dress if they don’t start.
It might be painful for Montreal fans to watch the man once dubbed the savior of their franchise to depart in such a disheartening fashion, but the reality is, the Impact can’t afford any distractions with playoffs around the corner.
He has given a lot to the club over the past season and a half, but if it’s not willing to do everything it takes to win, perhaps it’s time for the Montreal brass to simply move on.