MONTREAL – It was late on Saturday night when Montreal Impact president Joey Saputo finally felt able to move on. Despite the advances from Chelsea, Didier Drogba would indeed honor his commitment to the Montreal Impact and join the team’s training camp ahead of the 2016 MLS season.
On Sunday, Drogba tweeted that he was off to Qatar to prepare for preseason. He will then travel to Tampa, Fla., for the second phase of the Impact’s camp, the club confirmed.
Camp opened on Monday at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, and Saputo addressed the Drogba ‘saga’ for the first – and presumably last – time. Caution was on the agenda, as Saputo stated that his expectations were for Drogba to simply fulfill his part of the deal.
“He’s a professional,” Saputo told reporters, insisting on his “excellent” relationship with the player. “I expect him to come back with the right intentions. At the end of the day, we’ll see when he does come back."
Pressed on whether Drogba would spend the entire season in Montreal, Saputo stayed the course.
“We expect him to be the professional that he is,” Saputo said. “I can’t answer that question.”
Perhaps Drogba will be able to, after a month-long story where he, the main character, mostly kept quiet amid reports of a return, in some capacity, to English giant Chelsea. Drogba, 37, has one year left on his 18-month deal, the terms of which have not changed, Saputo said.
This issue was unsettling, but Saputo insisted that the Impact had done nothing wrong throughout. Although he maintained that rapports with Chelsea remain “respectful,” he allowed himself a slight dig at the London club, saying that “sometimes, you see certain institutions from afar, and you think certain things, but when you see them from up close, it changes a bit.”
When the Drogba-back-to-Chelsea rumors surfaced, Saputo recalled, Drogba didn’t say he wanted to leave. Neither did Chelsea privately express an interest – at first, anyway.
“We did have a discussion with Chelsea in that they wanted him,” Saputo said. “They were going through a period when it was tough and they would have liked to see him back within the organization. But again, Didier spoke to me about the possibility that he wanted to think about his post-soccer career, but he was committed to a contract, and he was aware that he was committed to a contract. He just needed some time. I’m happy that he decided to honor the contract that he has.”
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Saputo never feared that he would lose the player, but conceded that the club considered its options on the transfer market.
“But there’s only one Didier Drogba, whether it’s for his talent or for what he can bring to the table,” Saputo said. “We caught lightning in a bottle with Didier, and it’s important for us to start planning the post-Didier era in Montreal. He’s got one more year in his contract, and it’s important to start putting a group together and start looking at how we’ll replace the player in the future.”
For now, the once-in-a-lifetime player will remain in Qatar until mid-February, which head coach Mauro Biello said was always the plan – “it’s something he did before the World Cup,” he added. The Impact training staff will then evaluate Drogba’s progress and determine how he can integrate the group’s sessions ahead of the beginning of the season.
The Impact’s captain, for one, is convinced that Drogba will be ready.
“I texted him to say that we expected him and that we’re looking forward to having him within the group to start the season and aspire to great things,” Patrice Bernier said before revealing Drogba’s answer.
“He said we were all in this together.”