On Tuesday, France Football reported that the iconic forward has signed with Phoenix Rising FC, of the United Soccer League, which was re-sanctioned as North America’s second-tier league this winter, climbing from the third tier.
The move by the ambitious Phoenix team, which already has former Chelsea player Shaun Wright-Phillips and former Mexico striker Omar Bravo under contract, has been rumored for some time. But if France Football’s reporting is accurate, this is a game-changer not just for Phoenix, but the entire USL.
The French soccer magazine reports that Drogba is signing for three years — the first year as a player, and the second and third as sporting director. The report also claims that Drogba turned down a contract with Corinthians of Brazil.
Keep in mind that in 2016, Drogba’s second with the Montreal Impact of the first-tier Major League Soccer, his contract was guaranteed at just a shade under $2.2 million. Phoenix would surely not have paid that much, but that it was even competitive for his signature suggests a significant outlay — especially by a team in a league that’s made up in part of MLS reserve teams.
That is, unless Drogba was so eager for a chance at becoming a general manager that he agreed to play for a season at a drastically reduced price. Last year, Drogba almost left the Impact to become a coach at Chelsea.
Drogba wouldn’t be the first major name to pop up in one of the lower American leagues. Raul, the Real Madrid legend — and all-time leading scorer until Cristiano Ronaldo broke his record recently — played for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League, while Greek veteran Giorgios Samaras played for the now-defunct Rayo OKC in that same circuit.
But drawing the peripatetic Drogba, who also played in China and Turkey after his Chelsea career wound down — before re-signing with the Blues for a year, ahead of his move to Canada — is a coup, even at his geriatric age.
Phoenix Rising is playing a long game, angling for one of the new franchises Major League Soccer will add in the next decade. It has an ambitious promotional plan, backed by famous owners in DJ Diplo, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.