2010 FIFA World Cup: Didier Drogba's Injury a Lesson in Sports Logistics

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2010 FIFA World Cup: Didier Drogba's Injury a Lesson in Sports Logistics
Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A championship run can be the result of many factors effectively employed by coach and players.

Some coaches are key motivators. Others, tactical savants whose genius becomes more apparent during a golden run. But the one mitigating factor that no coach, general manager, or player has control over is injury.

An injury can occur at anytime, in any form, and on the most innocuous athletic circumstance. Prevention, however, should come with some logical preparation.

Maybe the logistics of Didier Drogba's situation are lost on an American soccer fan. This past Friday, one week from the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Ivory Coast striker suffered a broken elbow. Not in training, not in a freak accident. No, Drogba suffered the injury during a friendly match against Japan as a final warm up for the World Cup.

A friendly match, an athletic euphemism if there ever was one, may only apply to the game's exhibition-like final result. Athletes will compete no matter the stakes. And that's just what Japan's Marcus Tulio Tanaka did when he came in for a challenge with his right knee soaring across the pride of the Ivory Coast. Drogba immediately grabbed his arm then winced in pain and with him, millions of Ivoronians winced as well.

The 32-year-old remains the country's best hope to advance out of a brutally difficult group. Ivory Coast and North Korea are expected to be looking up at the international favorites Brazil and Portugal in order to reach the knockout stage. Drogba, fresh off of another English Premier League championship and golden boot award for his 29 goals, remains hopeful after surgery that he can help Les Éléphants advance on their home continent.

Considering the importance of Ivory Coast's all-time leading scorer and the magnitude of the event, shouldn't this situation have been handled with logistics of supply-and-demand in mind?

Why did Ivory Coast coach Sven-Göran Eriksson even allow his best offensive supply to suit up in game where the endeavor did not demand it? Though this may not be uncommon in the soccer world, it seems like from a logistical standpoint a coach would want his best player to avoid competition before a championship tournament.

The Ivory Coast's most important player suffered a possible World Cup-ending injury in a game where the supply needed to be shelved for a more important demand.

If even a mild sprain would take a couple of weeks to strengthen, then where is the necessity of playing Drogba just one week before the World Cup? It seems like the preferred style of sports preparation has become the game itself.

Though soccer is not as violent, its American counterpart, football, never plays a game outside of its season schedule and even dresses its most important position in a brightly colored jersey during practice so as to avoid any contact (Should my American brethren suggest that soccer possesses no violence in its competitions, then please take a gander during a 50-50 ball this World Cup). Logistics management in sports takes precedence because the supply chain, if not analyzed carefully, could trump a team's value of time and player utility.

The World Cup comes around once every four years. Great players like Drogba only have a select few years of their playing careers to capitalize on their prime and compete on the world's biggest stage. Drogba will be 36 for the next World Cup and his prime will remain here in 2010. And for what?

Ivory Coast ended up defeating Japan 2-0 yet at quite a cost. Perhaps if Eriksson took some time to evaluate his team's situation, he could have shelved Drogba as a precautionary measure. A week before the country's biggest competition, would anyone have questioned him?

Now, Eriksson must reanalyze that warehouse of talent for the Ivory Coast and figure out a way to finish second in Group G. A considerable demand for a country that just lost its best supply.

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