Drogba to Corinthians: a good move?

In the last few days there have been endless rumours flying around in the Brazilian sports media that Didier Drogba will be pulling on the famous white shirt of Sport Club Corinthians Paulista in 2017.

There are wildly contrasting stories about the likelihood of any a deal going through and the stage to which the negotiations have advanced but the club, in particular the club’s marketing department, have confirmed that they have made an offer to the player’s agent.

Corinthians have sent their ex-director of marketing Gustavo Herbetta to London to try to thrash out a deal and have even asked new signing Colin Kazim-Richards to phone Drogba – with whom he shared a dressing room at Galatasaray – to convince him to join the club.

This is clearly a move designed to grab the attention of the fans and to distract the press from the ongoing internal political and financial problems at Corinthians, but it begs the question: would it be a good deal for Corinthians?

There are two elements to the question. First, would it be a good signing in a purely footballing sense? And second, what would it do for the club’s finances at a time when they are mired in debt?

There have been some mixed opinions from the Brazilian media on the football front. There have been some voices saying that Drogba is so far past his best that he will struggle with the challenge of the long Brazilian season both physically and technically.

The physical element will certainly be a test. Drogba is 38 and the Brazilian football calendar is notoriously jam-packed with fixtures, to the point that top teams can play over 80 games in the year.

However, Corinthians would not be bringing him in with the expectation that he start every game. In the current transfer window the club has already moved to sign ex-Sheffield United, Brighton and Galatasaray front-man Kazim-Richards and ex-Manchester City and CSKA Moscow centre-forward Jô. The three would be able to rotate, lessening their individual workloads.

It is also difficult to see how anyone believes Drogba will struggle on a technical level. He has been one of the finest centre-forwards of this century and even approaching his fortieth birthday he will have more than enough quality to overpower Brazilian defences. The cadence of the game in the Brasileirão would also help him, with many games being played almost at walking pace.

There have been encouraging examples of older players thriving in recent Brazilian league seasons that provide further reason to believe Drogba would be comfortable plying his trade here.

38-year-old ex-Wolfsburg striker Grafite was one of the top-scorers in the league last time around, even playing for Santa Cruz, who finished second-bottom of the table, and has earned himself a move to Atlético Paranaense to play in the Copa Libertadores. Zé Roberto, who previously played for Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, is also still going strong with champions Palmeiras, despite turning 42(!) last July.

There are parallels with the signing of Ronaldo by Corinthians in 2009. Ronaldo was certainly past his physical prime by that point, and was in poorer physical condition than Drogba is now. However, he still managed to lead the line incredibly for Timão, winning the São Paulo state championship and the Copa do Brasil, turning himself into an idol of the fans and scoring some wonderful goals in the process (see the video below).

There are also parallels in financial terms between this (potential) Drogba deal and the signing of Ronaldo. It was a huge marketing coup when the 2002 World Cup-winner arrived at the São Paulo club and led to a sponsorship deal worth 30 million reais per year, at the time the biggest ever in Brazilian football. Something similar could happen with Drogba.

Most of the criticisms of the deal have been on a financial basis, with the club heavily in debt owing to the financial problems related to the building of their new stadium. However, the boost in income that Drogba could bring may actually leave the club better off.

The Ivorian clearly hasn’t got quite the same magnetism as Ronaldo in the país do futebol but he is an international star and would attract a huge amount of attention to the club. The club’s marketing department has calculated that his signing would lead to a rise in revenue of 12 million reais this year.

His wage demands are reported to be in the region of 400 to 500 thousand reais per month, plus a luxury apartment, a bullet-proof car and a full-time translator. In total, for a 12 month contract, Corinthians would be looking at an outlay of around 6-7 million reais. Even if the marketing department have far overshot in their estimations of his value the transfer would be financially viable and Corinthians would have a fine footballer for the season.

At first glance it may appear merely a headline-grabbing move. A star name to appease the fans who are angry after a disappointing 2016 and to draw attention away from the political and financial travails of the beleaguered club president Roberto de Andrade.

It could, however, be just the boost in quality that the club needs to put themselves back amongst the best in Brazil and challenging for a spot in the Libertadores once more.

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