Didier Drogba recently signed a contract to continue his club career with Chelsea, but his days of playing at the international level are over. The striker announced he's stepping away from that side of the sport after more than 100 appearances for the Ivory Coast.
He released a statement on Twitter confirming the decision:
Assuming there are no comebacks on the horizon—and at age 36, it's unlikely—he will finish his international career with 65 goals across 104 matches. That's more than double the scoring output of any other player in the national team's history.
The Elephants had never qualified for the World Cup before his arrival in 2002. They did for the first time in 2006 and proceeded to reach the next two editions of the marquee FIFA showcase as well, including this year's tournament in Brazil.
While the Ivory Coast failed to advance beyond the group stage each time, simply getting to compete against the world's best was a sign of progress. The side also finished as runners-up twice in the Africa Cup of Nations during Drogba's run.
WhoScored.com illustrates that he was a vital piece right up to the end:
Chelsea teammate John Terry talked about Drogba's still-threatening skill set on Chelsea TV, via Duncan Bech of The Independent:
Didier's still the same. He's been a nightmare to play against in training. He's still physically strong, sharp and hungry as well.
It's important Didier is here because he brings that mentality of wanting to win every day and that rubs off on people like Kurt Zouma and the other young players he's playing against.
Most players see the international schedule in terms of World Cup cycles. That's why there are usually several notable retirements every four years. It's unlikely he would be ready to make an impact as a 40-year-old in 2018, so he decided to step away now.
Drogba will go down not only as an outstanding striker for the Ivory Coast, but also as a driving force behind the country's surge to prominence. It didn't win any major titles, but the results improved and the progress was evident.
In other words, he leaves the national team in far better shape than it was in when he arrived. Replacing his attacking prowess and leadership won't be easy, but it's a transition all teams go through when they lose a legend.
Drogba certainly belongs in that category.