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Last Updated: Monday, 19 July, 2004, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Drogba finds his feet
By John Sinnott

Didier Drogba
Drogba is ready to hear the Chelsea call
Two years ago anyone suggesting Didier Drogba was destined to become one of the world's most expensive strikers would have been certified insane.

This is a player who started out at right-back; a player who at 15 stopped playing football for a year.

But if Drogba spent his formative years struggling to establish himself, the last two years have seen him take an altogether faster track to the top.

Two years of incessant goalscoring have made Chelsea consider spending 24m on the player.

Chelsea's coach Jose Mourinho has first-hand knowledge of Drogba's abilities - the Ivory Coast international scored against his old club Porto in the Champions League last October.

"I see the qualities of power and speed in him," Mourinho has said of Drogba.

"Also his control on the first touch and the way he fights for the team. He is a player who can achieve great success."

DROGBA FACTFILE
1978: Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast
1983: Moves to France
1993: Gives up football for a year
1994: Wins trial with Levallois
1997: Wins trial with Guingamp, but breaks toe
2000: Scores seven goals playing for Le Mans
2001: Scores five goals for Le Mans
2001/2: Moves to Guingamp, scores three goals in 11 games
2002/3: Scores 17 times for Guingamp; runner-up African Footballer of the Year
2003/4: Joins Marseille for 4m; scores 18 goals in 35 league games; voted Footballer of the Year in France

It is not surprising Drogba has developed those fighting qualities.

The eldest of seven children, Drogba arrived in France from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast as a five-year-old.

At first he lived with the family of his uncle Michel Goba, who was also a professional footballer.

Goba spent his career in the French second division and Drogba initially looked destined to follow a similar path.

From Dunkirk, where he played as a right-back, Drogba moved to Abbeville, a club that converted him into a striker.

He then joined Vannes, only to stop playing football for 12 months when he was forced to retake an academic year at school after he failed his exams.

Drogba resumed his football career at Levallois and also tried to secure a place at a number of French clubs' youth academies only to be turned down by all of them.

Guingamp did eventually offer him a trial, but Drogba's hopes of a transfer were dashed when he broke his toe.

By this time Paris Saint Germain were also interested, but Drogba turned them down, worried he would not be given the chance to break into the first-team.

Didier Drogba
Drogba joined Marseille from Guingamp for 4m

Instead he went to Le Mans, where he was taken under the wing of coach Marc Westerloppe - now Lens' youth academy director - a man Drogba has called "his spiritual father".

In a season-and-a-half at Le Mans, Drogba scored seven goals in 32 games, but his career nosedived after Westerloppe was sacked and replaced by Thierry Goudet, a coach who never saw eye-to-eye with the young striker.

The following season Drogba managed just five goals, but Guingamp, never having forgotten his potential during that 1997 trial, returned and offered him a contract.

Guingamp, a small Breton town with a population of just 10,000 people have traditionally yo-yoed between the French first and second divisions, but it was there during the 2002/3 season, Drogba blossomed, scoring 17 goals.

He was also drafted into the Ivory Coast squad for the first time and his performances also persuaded Marseille to pay 4m to Guingamp to bring Drogba south.

The rest is history. Last season Drogba scored 18 goals in 35 league games and 11 goals in a European campaign that took Marseille to the final of the Uefa Cup.

Drogba is the archetypal late developer.

Nicknamed "The Horse" by his Ivory Coast team-mates, Chelsea will be hoping he will be able to take the Premiership in his stride - as he has done the French league over the last two seasons.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Didier Drogba






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