How Didier Drogba will fit in at Montreal Impact
Major League Soccer has grown dramatically over the past decade or so, but North American football still isn't too accustomed to witnessing the scenes that greeted Didier Drogba upon his arrival in Montreal this week.
The former Chelsea striker had barely stepped off his privately chartered flight at the city’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport when he was mobbed by hundreds of supporters, welcoming the Montreal Impact’s latest signing. Not even David Beckham was afforded this level of hysteria.
But what will Drogba’s signing mean for his new team - the Montreal Impact? Where will he fit in and what does Frank Klopas want from the Ivorian? MLS has long held an interest in the striker, but why were the Canadian outfit so keen to sign him as part of a sign-and-trade deal with the Chicago Fire?
At 37 years of age, Drogba might have just one or two seasons left in him, but he could still have a major impact on Montreal in that time. The Impact now boast a headline attraction to help sell tickets, with the French-speaking striker sure to be a hit with the local football and media demographic.
“He’s had an impact on millions of people since the start of his career and he will continue to do so wearing the Impact colours,” club director Nick De Santis explained upon Drogba’s signing, with dollar signs flashing in his eyes. “A player of his magnitude can only help grow our club. He’s been a leader, a winner and a champion throughout his career.”
However, the signing also makes sense on the pitch as well. His physicality will give Montreal a battering ram up front, providing a focal point from which to hold up play and bring others into the game.
What’s more, there is a clear place for Drogba in Klopas’ 4-2-3-1 formation, with the Ivorian certain to now lead the line ahead of both Jack McInerney and Dominic Oduro. And with the likes of Andres Romero, Dilly Duka and Ignacio Piatti - all inherently creative players - behind him, it’s a system that could work for Montreal.
Regardless of all other factors, though, the Montreal Impact have signed Drogba in the hope that he will provide them with goals. Piatti is the Impact’s top scorer this season with just six goals to his name. That is an impressive tally for a playmaker of his mould, but it hardly says much about the potency of Montreal’s attacking lineup that neither McInerney nor Oduro make an appearance in MLS’ top 30 goalscorers' rank. Hence, the Impact are counting on Drogba to boost their attacking presence.
In terms of his productivity in front of goal, it’s true that Drogba has been in something of a decline for the past few years. His peak came in the 2009/2010 season when he averaged an astonishing 5.6 shots on goal per game, tallying 29 goals in just 31 Premier League starts as Chelsea won the title under Carlo Ancelotti, gaining a hugely impressive WhoScored rating of 8.32 in the process.
By contrast, the Ivorian averaged just 1.1 shots on goal last season - with his average declining pretty much year-on-year. Of course, Drogba - for all that MLS has improved in recent times - will come up against more generous defences in North American football, meaning that his productivity will likely shoot up again, especially if he is playing week in, week out.
But at last season’s rate, Drogba won’t be much more productive than what the Impact already possess. Perhaps Klopas and Montreal should be wary of assuming they will restore Drogba to his 2009/2010 performance levels.
Drogba was afforded few first-team opportunities in his swan-song season at Stamford Bridge last term, making just eight Premier League starts over the course of the entire campaign. However, he scored four goals from those games - scoring once from just two starts in the Capital One Cup. When the Ivorian was given the chance by Jose Mourinho, he delivered.
With a consistent run of first-team appearances - following a season in which he made no less than 20 substitute cameos in the Premier League - it’s possible that Drogba will once again find his groove.
Klopas openly recognises that the signing of Drogba is out of character for his side, given their recent focus on targeting young players with potential sell-on value - but rightfully points out that the chance to sign the Ivorian was an opportunity they simply couldn’t turn down. The Impact coach meant that in a sporting sense as well as a marketing one.
From a tactical and stylistic point of view, the move to Montreal would appear to suit Drogba - who is at his best when playing in a team favouring a direct approach. In Marco Donadel and Laurent Ciman - who average 6.2 and 5.6 long balls per game respectively - the Impact have two players ready to move the ball quickly through the lines of defence, midfield and attack - something that will work to the Ivorian’s strengths.
By contrast, no Montreal player has an average of more than 0.2 through balls per game, meaning that Drogba’s strength in the air, using both his head and his chest, will be fully utilised at his new club. He might not have long left of his career, but the Montreal Impact could give him the Ivorian the first-team send-off that he was never really granted at Chelsea.