Didier Drogba: The next chapter in his adventure comic career

AFP Photo/Glyn Kirk

There is something of the storybook superhero to Didier Drogba - the powerful physique, the intense stare, the confident strut, the handsome features seemingly chiselled from granite.

And, of course, the goals. He's closing in on 350 career strikes, and still counting.

The imposing forward has long been considered a man for the crucial moment - his 'big-match temperament' having seen him net 10 times in major cup finals. This includes four FA Cup finals - all of which his side won - and the 2012 UEFA Champions League Final, when his game-changing performance earned him the Man of the Match award.

Most of Drogba's goals have been delivered in the colours of Chelsea, with whom he also won four Premier League titles. His tally also includes 65 goals in 106 international appearances for Cote d'Ivoire.

But to actually own a football club? And play for it too? This really is the stuff of boyhood dreams.

Drogba - ranked 80th on the ESPN World Fame 100 - became a part-owner of US second tier club Phoenix Rising, and will also play for the team.

The United Soccer League (USL) side is one of 12 clubs bidding for one of two MLS expansion places, and by installing Drogba as player-slash-co-owner, Phoenix have firmly placed themselves in the public eye.

To own a team and be a player at the same time is unusual, but it's going to be very exciting. It's a good transition because I want to carry on playing, but I'm almost 40 and it's important for me to prepare for my later career," Drogba, who is contracted to play for a year before moving into an executive role, says in the Guardian.

This has been done before, mind you. South Africa, for example, has had two 'owner-players' in that country's top-flight. At the start of the 1970s, Kaizer Motaung defected from the country's most popular club, Orlando Pirates, to form Kaizer Chiefs - a tribute to the NASL club he played for, the Atlanta Chiefs. Motaung divided his time between soccer Stateside and appearances for his own Chiefs during the American off-season.

Another former Pirates star, Jomo Sono, bought the ailing Highlands Park franchise in the mid-80s. The club had been the pride of the defunct whites-only league. Sono renamed it Jomo Cosmos, a reference to his time as Pelé's understudy at New York Cosmos in the NASL. Sono, already portly in his 30s, continued to play for his club at the highest level, eventually transitioning to owner-coach.

But Drogba's investment in Phoenix Rising could eclipse all that.

It is too early to speculate about his long-term impact at Phoenix, but the club's lead investor, Berke Bakay, believes the Ivorian is in for the long haul.

"For [Drogba] to move his family and their roots and put his kids into the schools in Phoenix, Arizona - it's how much he believes in this," Bakay is quoted in Sports Illustrated. "He's not here to make another million. He's not here just to finish his career in the USL. He's coming here because he believes in this project."

Drogba has always made an impact wherever he has laced his boots - and sometimes in places where boots were not needed.

His current worth is estimated to be between $70million and $90million, and he is renowned for his contributions to charities and development initiatives in Africa. His work through the Foundation Didier Drogba, established in 2007, has led to recognition by the United Nations.

His role in promoting reconciliation after years of civil war in Cote d'Ivoire prompted Time magazine to include him in their Top 100 for 2010.

It was Drogba who convinced the Ivorian president, Laurent Gbagbo, to shift a Nations Cup fixture to Bouaké in the heart of rebel territory just weeks after a ceasefire had been brokered in 2007. And Drogba himself visited that city beforehand to show off his 2006 African Footballer of the Year trophy.

Writing in his autobiography, Commitment, he says: "The sight of thousands of men and women lining the streets, welcoming me, cheering me on, many in tears ... One elderly lady ran alongside the car for the entire journey... The heat was crushing, yet all these people were determined to be there, to welcome me to their part of the country, in a longing gesture of reconciliation...

"The welcome I received from the people that day showed me that they were willing to set aside divisions, and that was a really strong sign of hope."

While countless sportspeople know what it is to be mobbed by adoring fans, few can recount such emotional scenes. Drogba perhaps has a keener feel for the common fan, having had to fight his way up the ladder from the lowly ranks of French semi-professional football.

In his autobiography, he admits to worrying that he was rising more slowly up the ranks than peers like Thierry Henry, and while Drogba's background was free of grinding poverty, he nonetheless had to overcome the usual hurdles of a young African immigrant in Europe.

Sent to live in France with his uncle Michael Goba, himself a footballer, Drogba's youth development was shaped at Levallois between 1993 and 1997. From there it was on to mid-level provincial team Le Mans, before joining struggling top-flight side Guingamp in 2002.

His form earned him a move to his boyhood favourites Marseille, and a single, excellent season there attracted Jose Mourinho and Chelsea, whom he joined in 2004. He eventually left Stamford Bridge for Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, earning $300 000 a month, but he quit in early 2013 after his salary was apparently not paid over the holiday season, and joined Galatasary in Turkey.

By the time he signed for MLS side Montreal Impact in 2015 - after a season back at Chelsea - Drogba's fame, wealth, and influence was such that he could step back, take stock, and make an informed choice about his next move.

And so on to Arizona, amid the prospect of another action-figure chapter in Didier Drogba's storied career.

ALSO SEE: The ESPN World Fame 100