'I think he would destroy League One!' - Could Ipswich co-owner tempt Didier Drogba out of retirement?
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town co-owner Berke Bakay has joked that his good friend Didier Drogba would 'destroy League One' if he came out of retirement.
In an unlikely turn of events, the Ivory Coast and Chelsea legend was persuaded by Bakay to finish his playing career at US second-tier side Phoenix Rising in 2017/18 and also buy a stake in the club.
Drogba went on to score 17 goals in 26 games for the Arizona-based outfit before hanging up his boots at the age of 40.
Asked if he thought one of the Premier League's greatest ever players - who recently turned 43 - could do a job for the goal-shy Blues next season, Bakay laughed and replied: "Well, we need to ask our manager (Paul Cook) and our incoming CEO (Mark Ashton), but can he do the job? Yes, he can do that job!
"I mean, he’s incredible. I don’t know if he would like to do the job, I haven’t talked to him about that, but can he do the job? I think he would destroy League One if you’re asking my opinion! He’d scored 25 goals – I’d take a bet on that!"
Born and raised in Turkey, Bakay was a passionate Galatasaray fan growing up before he moved to America to study in Boston.
He would later move to Arizona and it was there that fate saw him and Mark Detmer become friends before later connecting with Brett Johnson after the latter had purchased Arizona United and rebranded them Phoenix Rising.
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Johnson, in his introductory press conference following the recent takeover of Ipswich Town, described the signing of Drogba as 'one of the biggest coups in one of the greatest feats in football history'.
"Brett is very generous with his compliments - I’m not sure it qualifies for that!" said Bakay, speaking on our Kings of Anglia podcast.
"I will tell you, I have done good things in life – sport, business etc – and had good successes, but if you asked me the lowest odds of anything I have done from start to finish in the given circumstances, that was it.
"At that point, it wasn’t that long since the guy had just won a Champions League.
"How did it happen? I'm a big football fan, massive Galatasaray fan and I had a friend in Turkey who had developed a connection with Didier while he was playing for Galatasaray.
"I was living in the US at that point. One day, before we had even purchased what was then Arizona United, I had this vision in my head. I said ‘how do you take a club that only plays to a hundred people, that has been an incredible disappointment so far, that only plays in a baseball field... what do you need to do so that people start taking you seriously and you can move on in the journey?’
"My answer to that was you need bring somebody that is so well respected, has such a history with the sport, has been such a success and who can still perform on the field, that anybody who knows anything about the sport can immediately make the connection and say ‘well, if it’s good enough for Didier then it’s good enough for me to watch the match and give these guys another chance’.
"So that was the vision. I just couldn’t get it out of my head.
"You can make a tie here to the Ipswich takeover process here as well.
"In the most humbling way I can say this, but my friends say ‘you don’t go away unless somebody kills you!’ I just won’t go away!
"So that vision wouldn’t get out of my head, I finally called my friend, said ‘give me Didier’s number’ and then I sent Didier a WhatsApp message with a picture of the USL Championship Cup.
"And I said ‘could you help me get this?’ And he started laughing and I think he said ‘how can I do that?’
"I said ‘well, I’d like to show you what we’re doing in Phoenix, you don’t have to make any promises, nothing’. He will tell you that it was a very soft sale from my end.
"I started with the big vision of the cup, then I invited him to Phoenix and said ‘it’s beautiful, why don’t you let me show you around?’
"Then, what I proposed to him, was something that hadn’t been done before. This was before David Beckham’s whole Miami experience. I said ‘why don’t you become a part owner of this club and help us get to where we’d like to be?’ And that vision, initially, was to be the best club in the division on and off the field.
"Didier was at a stage in his life, having accomplished everything, winning the Champions League etc, where I think he liked that challenge of going into a team who played in front of a hundred people and putting his mark on something that he can remember and think about for many years to come.
"I remember showing him this tumbleweed area and saying ‘we’re going to build a stadium here’. We got this temporary stadium, which holds 6,200 people, built in just a few months in time for the season starting and we ended up selling it out every week.
"Didier would score these crazy goals. There would be a free-kick 40 yards out and the goalkeeper wouldn’t even pay attention. It was like ‘what is this guy doing from 40 yards?’ and the ball would just fly into the net.
"All of a sudden millions of people around the world were saying ‘who are these guys?’ ESPN called us ‘the most interesting sports team in the United States’. We got all these nominations.
"By the way, at that point we brought in Shaun Wright-Phillips, Omar Bravo from Mexico, Peter Ramage, Jordan Stewart... We put this team together, won the Western Championship twice, the Supporters’ Shield, we started selling out every match.
"We ended up breaking the North American record for 20 consecutive wins. We got 60 points out of 20 games. It was all sell outs.
"We started the dollar beer nights and it became an international sensation.
"I don’t know if you guys know this, but on April 30th we are moving into our new home which is 60% bigger, like 10,500 (capacity), which will grow from there.
"Now we’re looking to sell that one out and grow our fan base to the mid-teens and ultimately the mid-20s.
"So that’s the story. It was an incredible journey. When I told my partners that’s what I was doing (with Drogba) they laughed at me! Literally.
"They thought all that could be possible was maybe a dinner with him in Phoenix and that would be the extent of it.
"That took six months, from start to finish, of talking to him every day, but I think if you asked him he’d say he believed in the project and the vision and he wanted to have a new experience. He’s not scared of taking on things like that and that’s what he did."
Fellow Town co-owner Brett Johnson, speaking on the ¡Qué Golazo! podcast, was also asked about the prospect of getting Drogba out of retirment.
“I love that idea!" he said with a smile. "You are not going to find many people who are a bigger fan of Didier Drogba than I am.
“Rewinding the clock, I remember when Berke told me ‘I’m going to get Didier Drogba’ and shaking my head.
“There’s a great story. Didier flies over and we’re giving him the full tour and at this point we don’t even have a stadium.
“This was something right out of Hollywood. A tumbleweed, literally, comes blowing through this field and I’m standing next to Didier and I see him look at his watch thinking ‘I wonder if I can catch an earlier flight out of here?’
“Berke is an absolute legend. He had the vision of getting Didier to Phoenix and he made it happen.
“We built this stadium in 30 days, Didier came back and he was like ‘these guys are the real deal’.
“Didier truly helped put us on the map. He’s just such a class act on and off the pitch, an unbelievable ambassador for the sport.
“So yeah, we’ll get Didier on the field! If he’s coming on in the 70th minute you’d have to put a couple of people on him!”