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Dublin: 13 °C Monday 26 August, 2019

Didier Drogba has signed a deal to play for and co-own a team in North America's second tier

The 39-year-old will play for Phoenix Rising this season before concentrating on trying to get the franchise into Major League Soccer.

Image: Brooks Von Arx

DIDIER DROGBA HAS announced he will play for and co-own the Phoenix Rising, a team that plies its trade in the United Soccer League, essentially the second tier of football in North America.

The 39-year-old revealed he had playing offers from the Premier League, the Championship and from China but wants to prepare for what happens once he retires. He’ll play for the remainder of this season – which runs until the autumn – before moving upstairs and concentrating on off-field issues – like pushing the club towards MLS expansion.

“It’s a nice transition”, he told the BBC.

I want to carry on playing but, at the same time, I’m almost 40 so it’s important for me to prepare for what happens after my career. And Phoenix will give me that.

I had offers from China and England – from Premier League and Championship teams – but that was only as a player. But it’s important for me to get to the next stage of my career. To be the co-owner of the Phoenix Rising team is something that really challenges me”.

Phoenix has had a rocky relationship with football in the city and its only had a professional team for five relatively difficult years.

Phoenix FC was the original club before they folded in 2014. Then, it was the turn of Arizona United before a rebranding exercise took place late last year and the Phoenix Rising were born.

Rather inevitably, they’ve struggled to make any inroads in the USL (though the league has only been around for six years) and have never reached the post-season.

Still, it’s a marketable city and Major League Soccer, the elite tier of the continent’s football pyramid, knows that too. It’s why Phoenix is in contention to become an MLS team in the near future.

Earlier this year, it submitted its application to be considered for expansion. But, so did eleven other franchises from around the United States.

Phoenix have upped the ante in recent months, however. And that’s hardly a coincidence. They signed well-known former Mexico and MLS player Omar Bravo and ex-Manchester City, Chelsea and England winger Shaun Wright-Phillips prior to announcing Drogba’s arrival.

But, this season is crucial for Drogba and his new employers. Attendances and results need to be impressive if his dreams of becoming owner of an MLS franchise are to come true. Toward the end of his 18-month stint with Montreal Impact, Drogba wasn’t first-choice anymore and his influence faded. He’ll hope for something better with Phoenix.

Otherwise, the relationship may come to an end sooner rather than later.

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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