Didier Drogba, the star Ivoirian forward who won the UEFA Champions League with his last kick for Chelsea, thinks he has three good seasons left in him, and he's open to the possibility of joining an MLS team after his contract with Turkish club Galatasaray runs out in 2014.
"If something is going to happen [with an MLS team] it wouldn't be strange," says Drogba, 35, who had discussions with MLS last year before moving briefly to a club in China. "Football is developing a lot in the U.S., and there are great teams and good players like Thierry Henry. David Beckham was there as well. Now there are a lot of players going there. [Clint] Dempsey has gone back. The league is even more competitive now."
"I keep on following it," Drogba continues. "I don't know, maybe one day it would be another challenge. For now I'm more focused on what I can do with Galatasaray. But if the time comes and if there is a possibility [in MLS], why not?"
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In a wide-ranging conversation from Istanbul with SI.com, Drogba talked about his impressions of MLS; his view of José Mourinho's return to Chelsea; his Champions League goals with Galatasaray; his serial scoring against Arsenal; his hopes for a third World Cup with Ivory Coast; his experience in China; and the continued progress on his self-sponsored medical clinics in his home country:
Wahl: You've won three trophies already at Galatasaray. How do you like it there?
Drogba: I like it. It was a chance for me to come back to European football and show everyone that I still have it, you know (laughs). Age is nothing. It's just a number, and everything depends on your qualities, your knowledge and also physically how you feel.
Wahl: And you're feeling OK right now?
Drogba: I'm feeling great. It might sound strange to people, but I feel better than last season.
Wahl: How many more years do you want to play still?
Drogba: I don't know, but I still hope that I have three more good years at a high level in me. I feel good. I don't put a limit on myself. I just play, and of course I will know when it's time to stop and retire.
Wahl: When you look ahead to the season with Galatasaray, what do you want to achieve this year?
Drogba: We have a lot of competition. First of all, we want to win the league again because we won it last year and the season before. If we win it, it'll be the 20th league trophy for the club, so that would be a huge achievement. It would be nice to be a part of this and the club history.
There's also the Champions League coming, and I hope that we can do even better than last season [when they reached the quarterfinals]. I always try to set myself big targets and see if I'm ready and can take the challenge.
Wahl: I was laughing recently because you scored against Arsenal again in the Emirates Cup preseason tournament. That's now 15 goals against Arsenal in 15 games for you. Why have you had so much success killing Arsenal over the years?
Drogba: I think it's just there are always teams where you don't know if you'll score, but you always have this belief a bit more than against other teams. Arsenal is one of them, obviously. I've been scoring a lot of goals against them. I still have the feeling, and I know that something maybe can happen that I will create a chance. Even if I don't score I will create chances.
Wahl: Ivory Coast has clinched a berth in the final two-game World Cup qualifying playoff in Africa. But you haven't played in many qualifiers this round, only one of five. Why is that, and do you plan on being more involved now moving forward?
Drogba: Yeah, it's strange: When I went to China, I left straight after the Champions League with Chelsea. Like two weeks after, I was already playing with Shanghai. For me it was new, a different season that's similar to the MLS [calendar]. It was the second part of the season over there, so I didn't have time to prepare myself with a preseason. Then in November it was the end of the season, and a few months later in January I had to meet with the national team. And obviously I was not fit. I tried my best, but I wasn't fit. So I agreed with the manager [Sabri Lamouchi], we spoke and made it clear. I told him I needed to rest and work with my new team.
And even with Galatasaray, when I came in January I didn't have a preseason, I had to play straightaway. So it was a very difficult season physically for me because I had no rest and I was trying to give the best I could at that time. That's the reason I spoke to the manager, and we found a solution to keep me away from the national team for a few games, have a good rest and when I come back fit, like I am now with Galatasaray, then I spoke with the manager and came back to the team. That's exactly what happened. That's why I was with the team again in New York.
Wahl: Is your relationship good with the manager? I know he didn't start you against Mexico this month in New York.
Drogba: Yeah. He didn't start me because I was playing 120 minutes in the [Turkish] Super Cup a few days before, and it's preseason, so I needed to rest. With the 11-hour flight and the game the next day it was very difficult. I'm happy I got to play 45 minutes. I have a very good relationship with the manager. He believes in me, just as he does with the other players on the national team.
Wahl: How important is it to you to get a chance at a third World Cup with Ivory Coast and to make a difference at the World Cup?
Drogba: For a small and young country like Ivory Coast to be involved in the two previous World Cups was already such an achievement, even if we didn't perform the way we wanted. But first of all we want to qualify. We don't know who we'll get yet for these [playoff] games, but we want to do something good for us, for this generation of players. We want to qualify and do great in the World Cup, but first we have to play these tough games we're going to get.
Wahl: You did make the move to Shanghai Shenua in 2012 but then left the club in January. How would you describe your experience in China?
Drogba: For me it was a great experience, and I have no regrets going there. I'd won everything in Europe, and I really wanted to go win something in Asia or in America. That was the challenge. It didn't go well because of some other things, but the fans and the players were fantastic. It's a shame I had to go, but this is life.
Wahl: You'll always be connected to Chelsea after your success there. How do you think José Mourinho will do now that he's back at Chelsea?
Drogba: He will do great. You could see the first few games there were a lot of emotions, which is normal. He's already started with two great wins in the league. I think good things are coming.
Wahl: You're very close to Mourinho, who wrote the foreword for your autobiography. He's at Chelsea, and they need a center forward in my opinion. Has the thought crossed your mind that maybe they need you?
Drogba: That's your opinion! (laughs) It's normal. How can I not be close to him? He brought me to Chelsea with Roman Abramovich. I improved and grew up with Chelsea, becoming the player everyone knows now. I hope everyone respects now that this is for me a team that I cannot forget. I will always be linked to Chelsea. For me it's normal. You can't take away from my heart what I did with this club and all the great people I played with.
Wahl: How long does your contract run with Galatasaray?
Drogba: I still have this season to play for Galatasaray. The club is really happy with me, and I'm happy with the club. We'll see what happens. I really want to have a good season, not the one like last season where it didn't always go well for me [in China] due to the reasons I explained to you before. I want to see if I'm ready for this new challenge. It's very exciting.
Wahl: I'm speaking to you from the United States. Salomon Kalou came out recently and said you were interested in playing in MLS for New York or Los Angeles at some point. Is there any truth to that?
Drogba: (laughs) A lot of things have been said in the past, from people in the MLS or even Salomon. But I think if something is going to happen it wouldn't be strange. Football is developing a lot in the U.S., and there are great teams and good players like Thierry Henry. David Beckham was there as well. Now there are a lot of players going there. [Clint] Dempsey has gone back. The league is even more competitive now. I keep on following it. I don't know, maybe one day it would be another challenge. For now I'm more focused on what I can do with Galatasaray. But if the time comes and if there is a possibility [in MLS], why not? Let's see what the future will bring.
Wahl: New York does still have a spot for a designated player.
Drogba: New York is great. Everybody knows that I love the U.S. -- I spend my holidays there, and it's an interesting league. I'm a man of challenges, and for me going to China was one challenge. Of course they pay you for your performances as well, but it's not about the money. It's more about the challenge. I have a big challenge at Galatasaray, and I'm happy to be here. Nobody expected me to leave Chelsea, and I was in China and nobody expected me to go to Galatasaray, and now I'm here. Life is like this.
Wahl: I did want to ask you about something in particular. Last year Don Garber, the MLS commissioner, said publicly that MLS had offered you more than $10 million a year, but you chose China instead.
Drogba: When we started talking I had already decided where I was going to go, and they came a bit late.
Wahl: You're using your own money and raising even more to build medical clinics in Ivory Coast. I read that construction on your first clinic in your hometown of Abidjan started this past summer. What's the update?
Drogba: Yeah. It's started, and I'm really happy. This is really my main goal. For me to do this means more than scoring goals or being the player I am. This is what I want to do, what I love doing. I'm delighted that we're going forward in this project after all the problems that we had in the country. Now the country is getting better slowly, step by step. These things take some time.