A-League aspirants South Melbourne have revealed terms were agreed to sign legendary striker Didier Drogba – only for Ivory Coast's all-time leading scorer to pull out because of the time delay in the competition's expansion.
Even if South are successful in becoming the third Melbourne-based team in the competition, they will not kick a ball in anger until 2018-2019 under Football Federation Australia’s protocol for a move to a 12-team competition.
And Chelsea great Drogba, 38, was not prepared to wait, with a $US120,000-a-month move to Sao Paolo-based Corinthians now in the offing for the iconic marksman, as he seeks to prolong a career which has brought four Premier League titles, a UEFA Champions League winners medal, four FA cups and a Turkish title, among a host of other personal landmarks.
Former NSL powerhouse South are one of a dozen entities aiming to persuade FFA to grant them A-League entry and their advisory board chairman Bill Papastergiadis confirmed that a Drogba deal for a single season had been all but done.
“We were pretty close … terms were agreed but where we had difficulty with keeping him interested during the period in which we could not play in the A-League, assuming we are successful in our bid," Papastergiadis said.
“The bid process is unclear because FFA have not released the criteria for entry … originally that was going to be in February but I don't know when that is going to happen for sure.
“But if we were to get in we couldn’t play until the season after next. Drogba basically said: ‘I like it but what I am going to do in the interim for a year?’
“We had everything in place, other than that.”
Ironically, it was none other than Drogba, back in 2010, who presented South Melbourne president Leo Athanasakis and club legends Paul Trimboli and Jim Armstrong with the FIFA Oceania Club of the Century award in a glittering ceremony in London.
“It’s a pity that we couldn’t bring him here to join us, but he is too much in demand to sit idly by for a period of time,” added Papastergiadis.
"Drogba's still at an age where he can compete – and he would have been great at A-League level. And we are still very much in market for a marquee of that kind of stature.
“We remain committed to bringing in somebody with a serous world reputation.”
Drogba – who scored 21 goals in 33 games for MLS side Montreal Impact before his exit in 2016 - has since been heavily linked with Corinthians, who have sweetened the deal with the offer of an armoured SUV for getting around Sao Paulo, a full-time translator and six executive cabin tickets for returning to Europe whenever he wants to visit old friends.
South, meanwhile, have held the interest of Chendo – Real Madrid’s general manager and an assistant coach under Zinedine Zidane – as their technical director in waiting, while 2002 FIFA World Cup winning Brazilian Roberto Carlos has been earmarked as South's inaugural A-League coach.
“With Chendo, we are happy where we are at with that," added Papastergiadis. "The Chendo story is really important component of our ambitions.
“It’s one thing to have a coach but it’s another to have the infrastructure to build a club that somebody like (Real Madrid club great) Chendo can bring to South Melbourne and Australia and he really wants to come.
“That could be more important than the coach …building it up from six-year-olds right to the senior level.”