MONTREAL — The two faced off in the English Premier League for years and after a conversation, Bacary Sagna was pretty much sold on joining the Montreal Impact by legendary Ivory Coast striker and former Impact man Didier Drogba.
“He talked to me about the city and the club,” Sagna said before practice at Centre Nutrilait on Tuesday. “I intend to stay here with my family. He told me that I was going to be just fine. He liked it here a lot. He told me the club was a family environment and that he made the right choice by coming here, that he felt good about it. Coming from a big brother, that means there is no problem.”
Sagna has a similar club background to Drogba, having spent 10 seasons in the English Premier League, playing 267 games with Arsenal and Manchester City from 2007-17. Since leaving the Impact, Drogba has joined Phoenix Rising FC in USL as a player/owner. He was recently part of a group that visited MLS headquarters to provide an update on their expansion bid.
“I knew that it was going to be good here and I’m very happy to have made this choice,” the Frenchman said. “It’s all about the feeling, and I’m all about family. I think this club is a family. As soon as I spoke to the coach I realized that’s where I needed to continue my career. I listened to my heart and I am here today.”
If Drogba sold Sagna on the idea, Impact coach Remi Garde did his part to close it, and also encouraged him to reach out to Impact center back Rod Fanni.
Didier Drogba, left, and Bacary Sagna playing against each other in the English Premier League in 2010 | Reuters
Garde said it was invaluable to the Impact to be able to attract players of Sagna’s caliber.
“Yes, absolutely it’s important,” Garde said. “I was very clear with Bacary when I spoke to him on the phone. I told him how things were going from my point of view, but I told him to call Rod, because he knows him, and he will tell you whether it’s good or not, what’s good, what isn’t. I think it’s important that he called Didier, that he got real information, why it’s good here, what we can improve, and what he could expect when he arrived here. And it’s important that the team is able to attract players who have had a great career like that.”
Montreal (9-13-3, 30 points) is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, the final spot above the playoff line. The Impact host the Chicago Fire at Stade Saputo on Saturday night (7:30 pm ET | TVAS — Full TV & streaming info), the first of nine consecutive matches against Eastern Conference teams to close the season. Garde insists he's confident that his new outside back will be ready to figure into the Impact's postseason chase, even though he's been out of contract since the end of the last European season.
“This was one of my first questions, how fit he was and what he was doing,” Garde said. “Was he in the beach or was he training in London? And I know he sent me a lot of information that was very positive and we will see this week.”
Meanwhile, teammates like Daniel Lovitz will have to quickly get used to the idea that a guy they once admired from afar is now sharing their dressing room.
“It’s somebody that I pretty much grew up watching and even before I was an outside back, he was a player that I was really interested in watching and thought that he was fantastic,” Lovitz said. “I had the pleasure of meeting him for all of five seconds about 20 minutes ago so I have a very limited exposure to him but it’s clear that he’s here for a reason. He’s a big guy, a big personality, and a better player. So it’s about us integrating him into what we have set up here and established, which is good, and the culture.”