Just because he’s 36 years old doesn’t mean you should only play him 36 minutes per game.
After today’s loss to Colombia, Ivory Coast are still in a good position to advance out of the World Cup Group Stage for the first time. But if they want to boost the odds, it’s time to put Didier Drogba back where he belongs in the starting lineup.
In the nation’s first two matches, despite being inserted as a substitute in the second half each game, Drogba has been on the pitch for three Ivory Coast goals. They’ve been shut out while he’s on the sidelines. Plus he’s one of the best video game soccer players of all time. You do the math.
Drogba himself hasn’t scored, but his mere presence seems to shift all of his teammates into another gear. When they in theory should be tiring out, they suddenly perk up with energy. The majority of the Ivorian chances have come after Drogba’s insertion.
The question for manager Sabri Lamouchi, then, is why wait? Drogba is not Ivory Coast’s best player anymore (that honor goes to Yaya Toure), but he is unquestionably the team’s alpha dog. Any time that he spends on the sideline, his team falls into a malaise. And being the first to concede in soccer is not an ideal strategy.
Starting Drogba gives the Ivorians their best chance to score an early goal, or two. When Drogba came in against Japan, two goals followed within four minutes. He commands so much respect from the opposing backline, and his teammates get way more space to work with as a result.
Drogba’s also the biggest target for incoming crosses, which there were plenty of against Colombia. Young budding star Serge Aurier was one of the most active players on the pitch, surging (if you will) down the right flank with ease. Even with Wilfried Bony’s excellent fro, Drogba is an easier man to find and to reach in the box.
Speaking of Bony, adding Drogba shouldn’t necessarily mean subtracting the young Swansea City forward. Ivory Coast’s offense has been at its best with two true strikers playing together. Both are brilliant finishers who, at times, can be creative enough to help each other out.
Either way, Ivory Coast shouldn’t have too much trouble beating Greece to reach the Knockout Stage. A few moments of 1-on-1 brilliance from Toure or Gervinho will probably be enough. But going forward, with defensive Round of 16 opponents like Italy or Costa Rica looming, maximizing Drogba’s time in play will give them the best chance to keep going.
They’re called Les Elephants, but Ivory Coast better not move slowly with this decision.