The passion, the heroism, and the artistry that lurk beneath the cold capitalist exterior of Didier Drogba exemplify how football, despite being a money-obsessed global industry, is way above the evils that bubble on the surface.
Didier Drogba, earning grotesque quantities of money for kicking a ball, appears to many as the ideal symbol of capitalist greed and inequality: the perfect emblem of everything grossly askew in football.
I would like to posit that football is still an egalitarian sport built on fraternity, with an enormous scope for social change. Once on the pitch, corporate domination is obliterated, and the raw socialist art of football becomes the only concern. The white lines of a football pitch represent the severance between the greed and inequality of modern capitalism and the socialist utopia of football.
Teamwork. Unity. Passion. Courage. Equality. These are the attributes on display in a football match. Adored by billions of people, all united in shared adoration of technical artistry and selfless teamwork, football remains the socialist art form that represents the antithesis, the saviour, of the alienation and disillusion that saturates 21st century capitalist society.
These positive attributes of sport are disregarded by many, with football given a bad name by the large majority of the public. The passion, the heroism, and the artistry that lurk beneath the cold capitalist exterior of Didier Drogba exemplify how football, despite being a money-obsessed global industry, is way above the evils that bubble on the surface.
Admittedly monetary obsession and corporate ownership plagues the modern day spectacle, threatening to consume its anti-elitist philosophical foundations, but football remains a sport with the potential to revolutionise society's values. It defies prejudice and champions the immense capabilities of our species, technically and mentally. It saturates billions of people with socialist values, moulding generations into admirers of togetherness, by uniting them in the timeless and spontaneous pleasures of sport.
Drogba as icon
Despite receiving a significant animosity for his sporting persona, Africa's icon Didier Drogba perfectly symbolises this beauty, both socially and artistically.
If football unites communities, and offers a glimpse of absolute fraternity and ubiquitous passion, then the image of Drogba presents the acme of this experience: his omnipotence in sub-Saharan Africa closely resemble a religious phenomenon.
Streets across the continent are littered with Drogba shirts. Beers are named after him; dance moves are created in his honour: Drogba truly represents the ultimate symbol of African pride and togetherness. The unified mass of poverty-stricken people, taking immense pride and personal joy in the nation's or continent's sporting success, essentially concentrate this devotion into their idol. He is football.
The image of Nike and Adidas logos plastered onto 'Drogba 10' Chelsea shirts, as football fans unite in a shared yet unconscious interest in corporate branding shows, for some, that football is the ultimate capitalist venture: the opiate of the masses. Some critics argue that the monetary greed and competitive edge of modern sport, as Pepsi, Coca-Cola and McDonald's seep their way into the core of the industry, mimics the capitalist dream, consuming and absorbing the population in their leisure time, as we yield to consumerist greed under the pretence of an anti-establishment pastime. I cannot accept this theory.
Football may be facing this capitalist threat, but unlike many areas of life, sport is not dependent upon it. Corporate saturation is dissolving artistic merit across our entire civilisation, seeping into every element of modern culture and leaving nothing but wealth disparity and an impending sense of post-modern despair.
But our fascination is preoccupied with artistic grace: a subtle blend of ferocity and elegance that, like all art, strikes a chord somewhere deep within the human body and produces an emotion somewhat akin to religious experience. The masochistic intentions of corporate domination can consume the elements that surround the football pitch, but it cannot touch the art itself, and it cannot destruct the egalitarian fraternity of sport.
Children in abject poverty may be adorning Nike shirts, but the logo is not what unites them: it is football, and in this instance, it is Didier Drogba.
Drogba as socio-political figure
Football's potential for communion and democracy is exhibited most prominently by Drogba in his role in the Ivorian civil conflict in 2005, as an attempted coup divided the country in a bloody struggle between Muslims and Christians, immigrants and natives.
Football is the life-blood of Ivorians, and watching Ivory Coast perform with a mix of Muslims and Christians was an incredible sight to witness. Throughout the conflict, the national team were victorious on the international stage, qualifying for their first ever World Cup; they were a united front, a beacon of hope amidst the chaos of war, showing the potential for civil peace and cooperation.
Drogba remembers the period with pride: “in the national team, we are all brothers. After the game people would call and say 'we are so happy, everyone was in the street dancing'. And we'd say, 'There's war in Ivory Coast, but people are outside when we win? Is football that powerful? Wow.'”
Immediately after victory over Sudan sealed their qualification for the World Cup, Drogba called his team-mates and the media to gather around him for an impromptu national address.
"Ivorians, men and women, from the north and the south, the center and the west, you've seen this. We've proved to you that the people of Ivory Coast can live together side by side, play together toward the same goal: qualifying for the World Cup. We promised you this would bring the people together. Now we're asking you to make this a reality. Put down your weapons, organize the elections and things will get better. Please, let's all kneel."
In a moment of immense significance and national pride, in their finest hour amidst delirious celebration, the Ivory Coast national team dropped to their knees. The rest of the nation quickly followed suit.
It would be dangerous to attempt to quantify the political implications of this overwhelming gesture from the cooperative of Muslims and Christians that had achieved such glory. But Drogba's speech was replayed hundreds of times in the following months, as tensions palpably eased throughout the country.
Two years later, after tensions had flared once more, Drogba requested an international match be moved to Bouake, the rebel stronghold. Before the game, the Ivorian presented the rebel leader with a pair of boots donned with the slogan 'together for peace'. Once again, the gesture had significant implications: 'when Drogba speaks, people listen', as Kalou once said of the man. After a 5-0 victory in which Drogba scored the fifth, one newspaper ran the headline: 'five goals erase five years of war'.
He has spent $4.4 million on a hospital in his home town, has recently become a UN goodwill ambassador, and advertises local products across his home town. His charity work has only increased his popularity amongst a nation that reveres him as the instigator of piece, and a truly inspirational political figure.
Drogba's footballing skills
What has given Drogba this unprecedented political power? How does he command such reverence from the public? The answer is the sheer brilliance of the enigmatic art he creates on the football pitch, the stage on which he performs awe-inspiring feats of technical skill and terrifying physical strength.
Didier Drogba is one of the most compelling sportsman a spectator can witness live. His technical artistry is not unique (although remarkably high), and there are several players with more refined skill and dexterity than the Ivorian striker. But a fan with astute awareness of the game will find more to marvel at in him than in most other players.
What makes Drogba a remarkable athlete is his truly monstrous raw power and explosive strength. It is so alarmingly brutal, yet compelling to the point of sublime, we can only marvel at how such an incredible feat is achieved.
Watching a thunderous shot rip through the air, reducing world-class athletes to helpless spectators simply incapable of restraining the immensity of his talent, is sometimes closer to witnessing a divine experience than a football goal.
His effortless physical strength, when exhibited on the pitch, morphs Drogba into a titan capable of an inhumanly subtle blend of brute force and technical grace: it is no wonder he is revered as a god-like figure. If Drogba represents the pinnacle of football's capacity for social change, it is equalled only by the incomparable sublimity of his game play.
This is why we watch the sport. For the tremendous displays of artistic beauty, that transcend the expected limits of human capacity and present a raw example of the mathematical sublime. For the unique experience of watching something that sends adrenaline shooting through the heart, that punches the stomach with an almost religious feeling of trepidation and admiration.
No player gives the art of football a better name than Didier Drogba.
Drogba's mental attributes
The psychological aspect of sport is equally important to the technical; this we are all aware of. In fact, the psychological strains exerted upon the sportsman is more interesting, since it requires more passion than simply refining technical attributes. If watching sport is celebrating the potential for beauty in the physical acts of the human race, then our interest in the psychological strength required to compete is championing the beauty of the human mind.
Performing under the colossal weight of expectation that accompanies any top-level sportsman is impressive enough, but the strength, courage, and determination that it takes to step forward and lift your performance levels when everyone else around you is slowly falling to their knees, takes a confidence and mental strength of truly heroic proportions.
Didier Drogba is a big game player. He has scored 9 goals in 10 finals in a Chelsea shirt. His record when expectations are raised, when pressure is increased, when an indescribable level of emotional and financial weight is laid upon a single match, is unbelievable.
His goal in the Champions League final was truly the acme of psychological strength. When the determination and will of your surrounding team-mates has been dampened, it takes an inhuman courage, determination – arrogance, even - to be able to remain composed and confident enough to claw your side back into a game. The pressures that come with taking the final penalty in a shoot-out need no explanation.
Supporters will hero-worship Drogba for that goal. Nobody, regardless of emotional ties or their interest in sport, should criticise them for this. What Drogba achieves on the football pitch, in inspirational moments such as the one in Munich, requires an outstanding mental and physical strength: it is, in short, an heroic display of what our remarkable species is capable of at its peak. The feats of sportsmen are achievements of the human race as a whole, and they deserve to be celebrated.
Didier Drogba's social and political presence symbolises the beautiful and powerful potential of football to instigate change. His technical ability symbolises the sublime, awe-inspiring beauty of football, validating its worth as an invaluable art-form. His inhuman mental courage and insatiable determination symbolise the magnificence of the human will.
He is the perfect sportsman, and the perfect icon for football's artistry and potential for social change.