WORDS WITH: DIDIER DROGBA
London may have been his home for over seven years now but Africa continues to play a big part in his life as he discusses with the official Chelsea website…
Ivory Coast had their game against Senegal, scheduled for last night in France, called off due to travel difficulties from their previous game in South Africa. For once the most famous footballer in their history wasn't involved as the country of his birth missed out on a visit to the country where he built his reputation as a top-class striker.
Didier Drogba's recent surgery on his arm was a necessary prelude to the complete removal of a metal plate. That had been inserted when he was touch-and-go to play in the 2010 World Cup having broken a bone in a warm-up game. Completing a three-game suspension from Chelsea domestic matches, his time recovering from the operation did not have a big impact on his club football and if he were to miss international games, then this was the time to do it.
Ivory Coast stormed to qualification for the Africa Cup of Nations which will take Drogba and Salomon Kalou away from Chelsea for a month or so. The qualification campaign that produced six wins from six games ended in October and the Cup of Nations does not begin until January.
Africa continues to make headlines for Drogba however. Last week his status as a perennial nomination for the African Player of the Year was confirmed. It's an accolade he was handed in 2004 and 2009 and he has been in the top three on five other occasions.
Before that, at the end of September, the Ivory Coast swore in a truth, reconciliation and dialogue commission in the wake of the civil unrest in the west African state earlier in the year. Drogba is one of the members of the commission.
Unrest might be considered too mild a term to describe the violence that followed a disputed presidential election.A figure of approximately 3,000 was reported as the death toll with half-a-million others displaced from their homes. The place where Drogba was born suffered and Kalou spoke about events and how his father was caught up back in April.
Modelled on South Africa's post-apartheid truth and reconciliation commission, the Ivorian version is to be part of the healing process. Coincidentally Chelsea's number 11 will once again be working as part of an 11-man team.
'It is very important knowing what the country has been through and knowing that this is something that we do not want to see again, so all Ivorians have to be involved in this process,' Drogba tells chelseafc.com as he considers his role.
'There are politicians on the commission and there are people who are like the chiefs from different parts of the country, and there is me as an ambassador of all the Ivorians who now live abroad.
'They chose me and I am doing it for my country, and all of us have to understand that it was the worst moment of our history and we have to make everything right for it not to happen again. I am coming into this commission trying to use the fact that I am famous to send some peace messages.
'The president of the commission thought that he couldn't see somebody better than me to be involved, I don't know how they decided that, but I am in this commission so I will do everything to help. That is all I can say.
'It is not going to be easy but we'll try. It costs you nothing to try.'
Drogba goes into the process hoping he can help make a difference, but will the process change him? By its very definition the commission is likely to learn much about what took place in a very troubled few months.
'I am ready for it because I want to know the history of my country,' he says. 'I want to know how people feel because I know how I felt at that time because I lost some people, so I want to share some feelings and try to forgive and go forward.
'There is no timetable at the moment but the sooner the better. You have to try everything for it to happen as soon as possible. It is going to take time because there are some unhappy people. You know when people have lost some close family members and friends it is going to take time to heal the pain.'
Ivory Coast's impressive form at international level raises plenty of hope they can put smiles on the faces of their nation when they take on the other top countries from their continent when the Africa Cup of Nations starts on 21 January.
For once it looks like Chelsea interest in the tournament could be reduced to one country's games with Michael Essien's participation for Ghana in doubt due to injury and John Mikel Obi's Nigeria failing to qualify.
Ivory Coast's only Cup of Nations triumph was back in 1992 and given the array of talent performing in top European leagues available to them, it could be said a follow-up win is overdue. Drogba and co. came close in 2006 when they lost in the final to Egypt who have won the last three Cup of Nations.
'We could have won it because our squad was really good but it is not only about the quality of the squad,' Drogba points out, 'and when you play teams like Egypt they had a lot of understanding because they had played together for nine years.
'When we lost to Egypt it was in Egypt and we lost on penalties. We had a great tournament but I hope this season is going to be better than the last African Cup when we went out in the quarter-finals.'
The imminent tournament is to be hosted jointly by west African nations Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
'We are going to have a lot of fans from Ivory Coast there but it doesn't really matter where you play because whenever you go to a competition you go to win,' says Drogba.
'We had a good qualification and this competition is the one all the African countries want to win so this one is going to be tough again.
'There is Senegal, there is Morocco, there is Tunisia, there is Gabon who are playing at home so they are going to be a good team, and there will always be some surprises. Only one will win the cup, I hope we are going to be the country.'