DIDIER DROGBA has become football’s first player-owner after agreeing to take over at Phoenix Rising.
The former Chelsea striker is making the ambitious move to Arizona in the USA after taking advice from Roman Abramovich.
Drogba, 39, rejected offers to extend his playing career from several Premier League clubs and was also given the chance to become part of Antonio Conte’s backroom team.
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But he has opted to become part of a ten-man consortium planning to establish the Phoenix franchise in the MLS.
The ex-Ivory Coast skipper insists his unique arrangement should not be a cause for concern for coach Frank Yallop.
Drogba said: “As far as the coaching aspect goes, I’m there as a player. There’s no way I can say to the manager that he has to play me. I’m not going to interfere in his decisions or his responsibilities.
“As a co-owner, I will have a say on things like new signings and making proposals about what is best for the club.
“I will carry on playing but my main focus is building and helping Phoenix to become a big team in the MLS.”
Blues idol Drogba has proved a persuasive influence in the past, convincing the likes of Eden Hazard, Eric Bailly and Idrissa Gueye to move to England.
Now Rising want to utilise that pulling power to put together a winning squad with Drogba’s profile – not his approximate £55million fortune – the key.
Drogba was first approached about the move seven months ago but it was only at the start of the year that the chance to become a co-owner was dropped into the negotiations.
He admitted: “It’s a bigger challenge than anything I’ve done in my career and different to what people maybe expected me to do. I spoke many times with Roman Abramovich and, trust me, it’s not easy to be an owner of a football club.
“I had offers to carry on playing in the Premier League, the Championship, the Middle East, China and South America.
“But then the opportunity came from Phoenix to use my experience, my knowledge and my contacts to grow the club as part of this huge project.
“I’ve played in the MLS for 18 months with Montreal and seen the way football in America and Canada has evolved in the last ten years.
“They are already one of the biggest leagues in the world in terms of attendances and it’s something that will only improve.”
Drogba admits it was hard to decide against an emotional return to Chelsea, where he won 12 major titles during his nine seasons.
He added: “There are options to go back to Chelsea but I want to be there because I have the qualities required to help the club in a positive way, not just to be there because I played for them in the past.
“There were offers from other Prem clubs but to go to anyone was else was impossible because, for me, there is only one club in England.
“It was strange coming back to Stamford Bridge when I was at Galatasaray and I didn’t want to experience that again.
“I am always going to be close to Chelsea. We have a history together and whenever they need me I will always be ready to help them one way or another.
“Roman called me last season and asked me to speak to the players when they were going through difficult moments.
“It was difficult for me to see the team struggling like that and, of course, I wanted to help.
“So it’s amazing to look at the table and see Chelsea top of the league again. It’s like everything is back to normal.”
Drogba admits this season could be his last as a player and said: “We have a young team so it will be difficult for me to keep my place.
“I’m 39 now and I’m not that fast any more. But I can still find the goal, which is the most important thing.
“It will be nice to play again with Shaun Wright-Phillips, who has been at Phoenix for the past few months and is going to show me the city and help me get my bearings.
“I will need time to get ready. I can’t do crazy things like when I was 25 and could train for one week then go into the team.
“If I wanted to make an immediate impact, I could do it one game but then I’d be out for three months.
“That doesn’t make sense. I want to help the team on a long-term basis.”
Rising are currently playing in the USL Pro League but have ambitions to be an MSL outfit by 2020.
Among Drogba’s co-owners are Grammy-winning producer Diplo, Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz, LA Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy and restaurant magnate Berke Bakay.
Team behind the team
Diplo – American DJ, rapper and music producer
Pete Wentz – Fall Out Boy bassist
Brandon McCarthy – LA Dodgers pitcher
Berke Bakay – Restaurant magnate
Tim Riester – Advertising CEO
Mark Detmer – JLL Managing Director
Dave Stearns – Connect Wireless CEO
Jim Scussel – Four Peaks Brewing Co. co-founder
Richard Hauser – Capital Real Estate Inc. president
Drogba admitted: “I’ve visited Phoenix in recent months and was surprised by the amount of autographs and selfies I got asked for. I didn’t think anyone knew who I was so I’m amazed that news of this venture didn’t leak out.
“I’ve seen the plans for the new stadium and there is definitely a big market for football in Arizona.
“I want to help to grow the game in America. The challenge is there and I’m excited to be part of this process.”