Didier Drogba still a competitor as playing career winds down

Didier Drogba is still playing -- and scoring -- for second-tier Phoenix Rising in the United States, where he has embarked upon a new chapter of his life off the pitch as co-owner of what he hopes will become a Major League Soccer team.

The 39-year-old former Ivory Coast international has maintained his desire to keep his boots laced, but admits he is in the final throes of what has been an incredible career, which includes a UEFA Champions League winners' medal, four English Premier League titles, and four victories in FA Cup finals.

Drogba has eight goals in 12 starts for Phoenix Rising in 2017 as the United Soccer League play-offs loom this coming weekend for what is likely to be his swansong as a player.

There is the potential that Saturday's clash away at Swope Park Rangers in Kansas could bring the curtain down on the illustrious career of one Africa's finest-ever -- if not THE finest -- players.

It is a far cry from Champions League finals and last-minute winners in the Premier League, but scale doesn't matter to Drogba as a smile comes across his face when he talks about playing, despite turning 40 next March.

"I'm having fun and that's really what keeps me playing because my teammates are great and I feel like a kid when I see the ball. I'm still a competitor," Drogba tells KweséESPN in an exclusive interview in Phoenix.

"I don't think that is something I will lose one day. The physique is okay so I carry on playing, but the fact is I enjoy more what I am learning about the other aspects, the other side [business] of the game, which is very important."

Drogba has embraced his title as co-owner at Phoenix Rising and makes it clear that he would like a role in the boardroom once his playing days are over. But for now he enjoys playing with the young stars in Phoenix and imparting his knowledge after two decades as a player.

"I feel lucky to be able to share my experience. I am in a position where I want to share what I did, what I had before ... I want them to know where I'm coming from because they have only seen me on TV," he says.

"I want them to know what happened 10 or 20 years before when I was struggling. It is important to send them the message that, 'Okay, I won the Champions League, I won many leagues in England, but before that I was always injured, I was struggling to make it into the first team'.

"I was ambitious, I could say I was already talented, but the brain wasn't in the same place as the legs. I was young, I was enjoying my life, but then I decided to focus on football and make it my job, a real job, and everything changed.

"By then I was 20 or 21, so really these kids, these young players here ... I am here to let them know that they still have a chance."

Drogba admits that, growing up, he never believed he would achieve as much success as he has, winning 14 major trophies as a player and numerous individual awards, including being named African Footballer of the Year on two occasions.

He adds: "I am beyond satisfied. Of course, I was dreaming of becoming a footballer, playing in big stadiums, 60 000 people and all that, but I never thought that I would go so far.

"Even if I had the dream, even if I had the desire to succeed, for me football has always been my passion and not my job. Maybe that is why I am still enjoying it now."

Asked to name three periods in his career that he looks back on with special affection, Drogba starts with his time at French Ligue 2 side Le Mans in the 1999/00 season.

"My first goals as a professional player; I scored twice [against Cannes in August 1999]," he said.

"Then the year I spent in Marseille. I had the chance, as a Marseille fan, to play in that stadium and it was a dream come true. It is something very special to me.

"Finally, Chelsea. Not only the Champions League [win], but Chelsea the club, the people, the games we lost, the games we won, those years are very special as well."

Phoenix Rising are one of 12 clubs hoping to win four new slots in the MLS in the coming years as the league eyes expansion, with a decision on at least two of the new clubs expected before the end of the year.

Aside from Phoenix, the other cities in contention are Charlotte, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, Sacremento, San Antonio, San Diego, and Tampa/St. Petersburg.