Drogba omission signals end of Ivory Coast’s golden generation
Posted Saturday, March 23 2013 at 02:00
Coach Sabri Lamouchi, who had hinted he would retain the old guard, says Drogba is ‘not in top form now’ as he names squad to face Gambia
Nothing in football is ever entirely definitive but, if there was any doubt that Ivory Coast’s golden generation came to an end in Rustenburg in February during the Africa Cup of Nations, it was removed by the omission of Didier Drogba from the squad to face Gambia on Saturday.
Ninety-six games and 60 goals after he made his debut against South Africa in 2002 Drogba will not even be part of the squad, although whether he has been dropped or asked to be left out remains unclear.
After the defeat by Nigeria in the Cup of Nations quarter-final there had been widespread calls from Ivorian fans for mass changes and the culling of the old guard but the Ivory Coast coach, Sabri Lamouchi, had hinted that he would retain the old core.
Lamouchi had left Drogba out for the second game in the Cup of Nations, the victory over Tunisia, but that was explained by the fact that Drogba, the Chinese season long over, was lacking match fitness – and it was even suggested it had been Drogba’s decision.
Now he has moved to Galatasaray and is playing regularly and his omission seems less explicable. Lamouchi again hinted Drogba had had some part in the decision. “He’s not in top form now,” he said. “He now wants to work so as to regain his form before rejoining the Elephants. In eight months Drogba has played for three clubs in three continents.
This affected his form and it is visible. He is currently working hard at his new club, Galatasaray, to recover his form. Drogba’s absence does not mean any humiliation. He will come back to the fold and help us qualify for the 2014 Fifa World Cup.”
Anzhi Makhachkala’s Lacina Traoré, a tall physical presence, will presumably replace him. He is a similar type of player to Drogba and has been his obvious successor for a couple of years but it is hard to believe, in pure footballing terms, that Drogba would not be an asset from the bench. Pure footballing terms, of course, are only ever part of it.
Drogba was clearly the leader of his generation, Ivory Coast’s captain for seven years and somebody others clearly respected, not just for what he did on the field but also for his work in trying to mitigate the effects of the civil war. When he was left out against Tunisia, he seemed determined to make a point of being supportive, leaping an advertising hoarding at one point to join the goal celebrations.
Perhaps Lamouchi felt that the baggage Drogba would bring sitting on the bench would inhibit the rest of the side but this feels like a defining moment for his management: get this wrong without Drogba – whoever’s decision it was – and it could terminally undermine his reign, if the Nigeria defeat has not already done that.
Drogba is not the only player omitted: Emmanuel Eboué, Romaric, Siaka Tiéné and Igor Lolo have also been left out and, in a sense, a home game against Gambia is the ideal place to start the process of rebuilding. They lie bottom of the qualifying group, with one point from their opening two games, and realistically should provide no more than perfunctory opposition. For Ivory Coast, getting through a group that also includes Morocco and Tanzania really should not be an issue.