If you thought Thierno Seydi's denial of the rumors linking Didier Drogba to Phoenix Rising FC was not convincing - your instincts were correct: scarcely 10 days since Seydi (Drogba's agent) rejected the suggestion his client had joined one of the more ambitious lower-league teams in US soccer, Drogba has joined one of the more ambitious lower-league teams in US soccer.
The signing of a world-class and world-renowned player tends to be carefully stage-managed these days, but this news broke in slightly unorthodox fashion. First, the New York Times - hardly an enthusiastic trafficker of flimsy transfer rumors - published a very straightforward report.
the earth is flat— Champagne Soccer (@SoccerChampagne) April 12, 2017
Didier Drogba, Famous Soccer Player, Joins Phoenix Rising, Not a Famous Soccer Team https://t.co/zf6A0Y81u2
No reason to doubt a story from the NYT that came complete with direct quotes from Drogba himself and details about his contract. Per the Times, Drogba will play for one or two seasons, and then has the option of moving to the team's front office or joining its coaching staff. And he has taken an ownership stake in Phoenix Rising FC, joining a celebrity-studded group that includes Diplo and has the ambition of bringing the club to MLS in the next wave of league expansion.
Drogba himself popped up on Twitter to confirm the news.
Happy to announce I have signed with @PHXRIsingFC and will be part of the ownership group hoping to take Phoenix to the MLS #Drogba2PHX pic.twitter.com/h1eefmqgJL— Didier Drogba (@didierdrogba) April 12, 2017
Finally, Phoenix Rising FC weighed in:
Can confirm...— Phoenix Rising FC (@PHXRisingFC) April 12, 2017
The legend @didierdrogba is coming. https://t.co/YUPv5WRbNc
#RisingAsOne #Drogba2PHX #RaiseYourGame" pic.twitter.com/NPrBpBph2A
The UK's Mirror and Telegraph newspapers quickly dropped articles on the subject that included interviews with Drogba himself.
You've heard of player-managers, now Chelsea legend Didier Drogba is to be player-OWNER at American third-tier side https://t.co/WYdi5YCCwy— Premier League News (@UnofficialPL) April 12, 2017
Didier Drogba to become football's first player-owner at American club Phoenix Rising https://t.co/BCGlnFvvXR @telefootballより— Blue is the colour!! (@CFC838) April 12, 2017
Drogba joins a squad that includes Mexican legend Omar Bravo and former Chelsea teammate Shaun Wright-Phillips, more recently a New York Red Bulls player. Clearly, Drogba's investment, general credibility in the soccer world, and star power will be of greater value to Phoenix Rising than whatever he contributes on the field - but his arrival makes his new team arguably the most top-heavy team in USL, the US second division.
Three former national-teamers in the final third is an unusual sight in a league that still mostly markets itself as a platform for younger players to attract MLS attention. Bravo, Drogba, and SWP aren't in Phoenix in the hope of winning MLS contracts, but they would surely enjoy helping Phoenix win its bid to be one of the next teams in MLS. And if they can win a few games together on the field, all the better.
Phoenix Rising FC is currently three games into its USL season, winning its first match of the 2017 campaign at the third attempt - a 2-1 win over LA Galaxy II. The team next plays on April 23, at home against Swope Park Rangers.