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Drogba Dependence

Selay Marius Kouassi/Twenty Ten

Associated features: Drogba the Icon (Photo gallery), The Didier Drogba fever (French and English Photo feature), Drogba Jerseys (Text feature), Drogba: Ivory Coast's talisman (Text feature)

Location: Johannesburg, South Africa

The World Cup warm-up draw against FC Lausanne, a Swiss second division club, shows how desperately The Elephants need Didier Drogba. The poor performance of his team mates during his absence fuels the debate over Ivory Coast's national football team’s inveterate dependence on the talismanic Number 11.

When, on June 4, Drogba fractured his forearm in a friendly against Japan, many soccer pundits predicted that his absence would reduce Ivory Coast’s chances of performing well and reaching the knock out stage. Amazingly, the Drogba-less Ivory Coast held on during the Tuesday June 8 1-1 draw against FC Lausanne. Was this draw a sign, a foreshadowing of the experts’ prediction?

Statistics say a lot about Ivory Coast’s national football team’s dependence on Drogba. He made 68 appearances for the national football team until he got injured by the Japanese defender, Tulio Tanaka. Ivory Coast has been transformed from a middle-ranking team to a major force in African football since he came on the scene.

He has played all the African Cup of Nations Qualifiers since 2004 and helped the team qualify for its first two World Cups in 2006 and 2010, the first at the expense of Cameroon. Drogba is almost never replaced, even when his performance is under average, as was the case while Ivory Coast was playing Burkina Faso during the 2010 African Cup of Nations held in Angola.

The Captain of The Elephants tops the short list of players who perform well when the Ivory Coast plays. Henri Michel, Uli Stilieke, Gérard Gili and Vahid Halhilodzic’s reliance on Drogba was the spine of their tactics. These former coaches of Ivory Coast remarkably failed to prove they were not ‘Drogba-addicts’. Will Sven Eriksson, the recently appointed coach, challenge this tradition?

Ivory Coast’s results falter whenever Drogba is successfully marked. When Drogba is silenced, his team mates have to struggle to be effective. Ivory Coast’s players never learnt that lesson themselves, but their opponents are wise to this dependency.

“Drogba makes about forty per cent of the team. His absence is an important loss,” acknowledges Dimi Stéphane, a former team mate of Drogba. It’s obvious, and there is no doubt that this over dependence is one of the greatest weaknesses of the team.  

“The team should not depend on Drogba. If the whole team depends on him, I don’t think Ivory Coast will go further,” warns Michel Koffi, an Ivorian sports journalist working for SABC.

Mark Drogba and you will beat The Elephants. Many teams are learning that secret. How, then, will Ivory Coast perform without Didier Drogba? It remains an enigma to be solved by Sven Eriksson and the vice-captain, Kolo Toure.

Drogba will probably miss the match against Portugal. Then, with a diminished offence, a shaky defense despite the highly-acclaimed Kolo Toure, and an unstable midfield, Ivory Coast will need a plan B. Sven Eriksson has many options, but a hasty rebuilding of the structure of the national team, just a few days ahead of the opener against Portugal, could be a solution more lethal than the problem he intends to solve.

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