There’s a lot of MLS Intrigue stories that aren’t very intriguing. Semi-annual salary info dumps and promotion/relegation circlejerk arguments spring to mind. But sometimes a story emerges that is legitimately juicy.
Just before kickoff in a crucial late-season clash between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, with playoff qualification on the line, the buzz was on a notable omission from the teamsheets. Montreal striker and former Chelsea legend Didier Drogba was nowhere to be found. He wasn’t in the Starting XI. He wasn’t on the bench. In what was arguably the biggest game of Montreal’s season, their star player was seemingly given the day off. And no one knew for sure why!
Right before the game the press were told that the decision to leave Drogba out of the team was due to a minor back injury. But after the game— which ended in a 2-2 draw, and results elsewhere secured a playoff spot for Montreal— head coach Mauro Biello confirmed a rumor that had been going around: Drogba refused to play.
”Didier wasn’t selected to start the game. I spoke with him yesterday he didn’t accept the fact to come off the bench and, in the end, he did not want to be in the 18. There was tightness in his back, yes, but he was capable of playing. The organisation will have to handle this.”
When asked why Drogba just straight-up went on strike:
”You’d have to ask him that question. In the end, everybody works hard at training every day to be ready for selection. You’re part of a team, and when you’re selected or you’re not selected, it’s about being there for your team-mates. It’s important that things are settled in the end one way or another and we move forward. That’s the message.”
Team captain Patrice Bernier was nominally supportive of his teammate while acknowledging he’s not sure if Drogba is going to play for Montreal in the playoffs. Or, uh, ever again.
”It sucks a bit. Now we’re talking about Didier but we qualified for the playoffs, and that’s the most important thing. The team comes before everything. I’m pretty sure Didier is [going to be there] in a week, and maybe say his piece because he’s a guy that doesn’t hide away. Didier has brought a lot of things to this club and this team, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to keep doing that for the remainder of the season.”
It’s entirely possible this is the end of Drogba’s time in MLS. Given his age (38), his salary ($2.2 million), the organization airing their grievances in public, his recent PR issues, his continually eyeing the exits, and the fact that his contract expires in December anyway, it’s hard to see how this particular bridge gets mended. Which is a shame, since this would likely also be the end of his playing career, and this is a rather ignominious way to go out.
Montreal close out the regular season next Sunday against New England and then head right into the MLS Playoffs. We’ll find out pretty soon if this is indeed the end of the Didier Drogba saga.