Drogba dream drives Marseille fans
Olympique de Marseille supporters have long insisted that 'impossible doesn't exist in Marseille' and they are currently taking extreme measures to prove their slogan right. The little matter of luring Didier Drogba back to the Stade Velodrome is their aim, and while they undoubtedly stand zero chance of succeeding, their ambitious campaign proves once again that OM fans never forget a departed idol.
Chris Waddle and Josip Skoblar would no doubt have received the same treatment were they still active, but in their absence Drogba is the last genuine legend to have captured hearts at the Mediterranean club. Four years after leaving for Chelsea, the Ivorian striker still fires the imaginations of those who watched him in his pomp at the Velodrome - and those same supporters are now attempting to raise enough funds to cover his transfer fee.
Behind the scheme is young Marseille fan Mathieu Gomila, who told local newspaper La Provence that the idea owed much to Marseille's global standing. "It all grew out of a discussion between friends," he said. "We were sure that if OM supporters around the world clubbed together, we could bring Didier back." With that in mind, the 24-year-old set up an internet site to gather pledges and just over a week later the total stands at 2.5m euros. Trouble is, the target of the fans' affections would command a fee over 25m euros more.
That figure has not put Gomila off the scent, however, and to keep his enterprise realistic he has limited pledges to a maximum of 200 euros per person. Fellow 'Drogbathon' organiser Lea Bonifacio agrees that capping donations is the only way forward: "We want it to remain credible. That's why from now on people can only contribute once from the same IP address." Possibly undermining the thirst for credibility, on the other hand, is the cheeky photomontage of the Ivorian on the Drogbathon home page, proudly sporting Marseille's new kit.
Supporters cannot be blamed for dreaming, of course, but the business of signing new players remains the closely-guarded preserve of club officials. Marseille President Pape Diouf, though appreciative of the initiative, wasted little time in injecting a dose of reality. "If this Drogbathon raised the necessary 28m euros, everyone would realise it's not enough to simply come up with the transfer fee," he said. "We would have to draw up a contract and that's when other serious challenges would present themselves. I've got a good idea of what Drogba's salary is and I can assure you it's out of the ordinary by French standards."
It is a fair point, but not even that is likely to dampen hopes in the Mediterranean city, where Drogba has attained a cult status some might find surprising. Devotion on that scale is easy to understand among AC Milan fans and Roma supporters whenever Paolo Maldini or Francesco Totti are up for discussion, but both those players symbolise their respective clubs and have spent their entire careers defending the same colours.
Drogba spent just one season at the Velodrome, in contrast - but what a season it was. Little known when he pitched up in southern France at the start of the 2003/04 campaign, the Elephants captain went on to fire 32 goals in all competitions, including 18 in Ligue 1. Another 11 of his efforts came on the European stage, as he almost single-handedly powered Marseille to the UEFA Cup final.
The 30-year-old even had the temerity to score against Porto, then coached by a certain Jose Mourinho. Such was the impression he left that the following season the Portuguese tactician made signing Drogba one of his immediate priorities upon taking over at Chelsea. Unable to compete financially, Marseille were forced to sell, and their star asset set off for London openly reticent about making the switch.
Since then, he has repeatedly proclaimed his love for OM and their supporters, even going so far as to chant "Allez l'OM!" (Come on OM!) after scoring each of his two goals against fierce rivals Paris Saint-Germain during his first UEFA Champions League campaign with the Blues. Naturally enough, such an audacious gesture in the heart of the French capital went down superbly on the Mediterranean coast - so much so, in fact, that it will take far more than a €28m fee to discourage the Marseille faithful from pursuing their dream.