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Didier Drogba: The scourge of Aristotle

Written by Will Parchman

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The Greek ideal of “the middle course” didn’t rise with Aristotle. Its genesis was probably in the story of Icarus, the son of a famous artist whose wings melted as he approached the sun. But it wasn’t until Aristotle that we came to understand the broader notion of moderation – the middle course – as a form of beauty.

In the end we take a great many of our social cues from Greek mores. The pilasters upholding the foundations of the reasoned, post-Enlightenment Western world were carved by it. Arthur Herman, the historian and author of the outstandingly nuanced The Cave and the Light, once called Aristotle the spiritual godfather of the internet.

Aristotle’s propagation of the notion of the golden mean isn’t perhaps his most famous tenet, but I’d argue it’s his most subtly enduring. Every culture has this notion of moderation as a true north of acceptable behavioral norms. Every one of us in some respect has heard the phrase “everything in moderation” in regard to daily life choices. You will say it too as you watch your firstborn trundle off to their first college dorm room.

Symmetry, proportion, the middle road. All of ancient philosophy was based on its bedrock. It guided Greek architecture and sculpture, which guided our notions on the golden ratio and beauty, which created the Kardashians. History is sometimes a weapon, I guess.

It is here that we find Didier Droga, a physical embodiment of the extreme amidst repeated cries for a felicitous middle between the extremes of excess and deficiency. Drogba’s MLS legacy will be guided by his refusal to take that most moderate of roads. And it ultimately undid his MLS endowment as quickly as it built it up. There is no quicker route to modern ostracization than through the mire of life’s extremity.

Drogba was not on Montreal’s final regular season matchday roster. The Impact lost the game 3-0 to a New England team with more or less zero hope for the postseason, and the 38-year-old Drogba was not even in the house to see the flames lick at his teammates’ ankles. Montreal had already made the playoffs, so in that respect the game was immaterial, but the Impact had homefield advantage to win. D.C. United rested 10 of its 11 starters, meaning the door was propped wide for Montreal to host. They cratered instead.

This came on the heels of Drogba’s protest following his benching at the hands of intrepid coach Mauro Biello a week earlier. It was a brave move from Biello, and it was the correct one. Benching old legends is a difficult thing. Doubly so when those legends imagine there is more gasoline in their tank than reality dictates.

And yet not long before the New England game, all appeared well. Or so the club said. Smart people spoke reverently about Drogba’s ability to set the postseason to the torch off the bench. But suddenly there is “back pain,” and all seems lost.

Indeed. Drogba won’t even travel to D.C. for the knockouts this week.

Drogba’s entire career was lived in confrontation with the golden mean, but his MLS career has set it on fire atop a bed of poutine and dropped it in a dumpster filled with accelerant. He has been the physical embodiment of extremity. And as we know with those who live on the poles, when it’s good, it’s really good.

There is no precedent for Drogba’s 2015. Zero. No player has ever come into the league cold, at midseason, and scored 11 goals in 11 games and looked this terrifying doing it.

This was his first start.

Even beyond this, Drogba was quickly ensconcing himself as a locker room legend. Teammates loved him. He said the right things to the fans. He appeared to love the city.

And then there’s this. Two months after his arrival, Drogba corralled a group of starstruck Impact academy kids into the team’s locker room. Alongside teammate Ambroise Oyongo, Drogba pumped the African dancehall music and held an impromptu dance contest. Even for a hard heart, this is a mechanical smile generator. Spontaneous PR doesn’t come more ready-made than this.

This is good in part because it’s extremely good. Drogba was the most impactful player in MLS over the final three months of the 2015 season. He was also objectively happy to be in Montreal and by all accounts provided a superstar jolt to the franchise. Things weren’t just good. They were fantastic for a club that desperately needed something fantastic.

Nobody complains about the added warmth on the high side of the middle way. But once you descent off the hillside into the muck and under the damp canopy, it’s almost impossible to scramble back up.

This season has been a steady erosion of that hypo-mania from 2015. Drogba turned 38 the first week of the 2016 regular season, and his body slowly began melting down. He hasn’t been able to start more than five games consecutively all year, and he looks visibly slower and out of the picture by the time games hit the hour mark. The season itself seemed to go straight to Drogba’s knees. Since his hat trick on July 23, Drogba has two goals in 721 minutes. As the season wore into his joints, he looked more and more like a droid with a dozen component parts slapped onto his chassis from different pieces of technology.

It is no surprise at all, then, that the club signed Matteo Mancosu from Joey Saputo’s Bologna on July 7. Fittingly, Drogba’s last burst of light came just after this before he settled into an aged malaise, and Mancosu slowly began taking on starting minutes that once belonged to Drogba.

It was, in fact, Mancosu’s start that led to Drogba’s benching which led to the final confrontation which, most likely, will lead to Drogba’s untimely demise in MLS.

Drogba more or less withdrew himself from the team when it became obvious he was no longer an unquestioned starter regardless of form or fettle. This is the Old Way of DP thinking, a mindset that belonged in Beckham’s age and, in a time before that, the era of Valderrama. But the time of TAM is upon us, allowing teams to supplement DPs with quality options that tend to suck the oxygen out of starting spots that were once deemed unassailable.

This is no doubt what Drogba expected from MLS. You can imagine, in his mind, it looked something like Stephen King sitting in on a high school writing class. Everything’s wonderful when King is allowed the chalkboard. But sit him down in a chair and tell him there are things even he can learn from this, and suddenly there is internal mutiny.

The trouble is that MLS is no longer like this. Coaches have more iron now, emboldened by better rosters and more options. Biello no doubt understood that he did not owe his 38-year-old veteran minutes so long as they were not in the team’s best interests on that day. If Mancosu is better? Then play him.

I suspect this is the end for Drogba in Montreal. His back may be balky enough to have left him off the travel roster for the team’s most important game in a year, but I think it just as likely that Drogba’s already called the front desk to check out. The team dynamic is no longer what he thought, and a coach that won’t feed him first team minutes in important games no matter the circumstance is not what he had in mind.

This is just as well. Drogba was a brilliant comet in MLS when he was good, but players who don’t follow the golden mean tear at the fabric of locker rooms. So much so that administrators will often look for even keel players – what do your weekends look like? – at the expense of talent.

There was always a tempest of disharmony about Drogba in Montreal. In the same turn, it made him king and melted down his throne.

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