Drogba's ego is Elephant in the room

Rows with Touré and team-mates over manager could overshadow Ivory Coast's chances of catching Brazil cold tonight
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The Independent Football

The reason Sven Goran Eriksson, rather than Guus Hiddink, is leading the Ivory Coast's Elephants out to face Brazil at Soccer City tonight has less to do with the Dutchman's prior commitments and more to do with Kolo Touré's successful attempt to curb Didier Drogba's hold over the Ivorian Football Federation. The FIF's decision to abandon the pursuit of the now Turkey manager was made after Drogba upset Touré and many other members of the squad by making his personal invitation to Hiddink in March.

Drogba, as the oldest and most decorated player in the Ivorian World Cup squad, appears from the outside the natural choice as their captain. However, while nine of the players who started the opening match against Portugal – including Touré – grew up together at the ASEC academy in Abidjan, Drogba left Africa as an infant and was raised by his uncle in France. For all the success and riches Drogba has achieved since leaving France for Chelsea in 2004, he is something of a guest at his own party whenever the Ivory Coast meet.

Matters came to a head in March, when the squad gathered in London for the first time following the Ivory Coast's embarrassing quarter-final defeat to Algeria at the African Nations' Cup. Vice-captain Touré was nominated to field inquiries from a hungry media wanting answers for the Ivory Coast's failure in Angola; clues as to who would replace the recently sacked Bosnian manager Vahid Halilhodzic. Not easy questions to answer, and ones Drogba evidently had no desire to face as he raced off with his mouth zipped.

In Drogba's absence, Touré patiently fielded questions for 15 minutes. He offered collective responsibility for the Elephants' underachievement. "We have failed as a team and we keep failing. Ivory Coast has good players like Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré but we need to gel."

Touré, the son of an army officer, is too patriotic and polite to complain about being the face of the national team when it suits Drogba, who feels he does plenty for his country as it is. Touré enjoys speaking to the press at any rate. All the same, the Manchester City captain wants the whole of the Ivory Coast team to stand up and be counted. "It is not important to have great players but it is important to have a great team," he says. Drogba has hinted he may step away from international football after the World Cup but Touré says he will "never retire from international football".

When the Chelsea striker bypassed Touré and the FIF to ask Hiddink to take the vacant manager's post, it was too much for the defender. "Touré was unhappy that Drogba wanted to arrange the next manager," said the Ivory Coast media officer, Angenor Ghani. "It would have been difficult for us to appoint him as the old ASEC players wanted [former ASEC coach] Philippe Troussier to be manager. They think if one player can have a say, they should have one also."

After flirting with both Hiddink and Troussier, the FIF president Jacques Anouma settled on Eriksson, the unaffiliated compromise. Anouma also had to placate tensions between Drogba and Kolo's brother Yaya. "It is true that some big egos exist within the team but it is up to us to find the solutions," Drogba said.

From the Elephants' camp in Johannesburg, Kolo expressed his regard for Eriksson's leadership and downplayed the Ivory Coast's reliance on their captain, who looked in danger of missing the World Cup after breaking his elbow. "It's normal people talking about Drogba because he's a fantastic player. But you need to have 23 very good players and for me, we have that. Now everybody needs to show the world that in Ivory Coast there isn't only Drogba, there's some really good other players as well."

In Drogba's absence, Touré took the captain's armband for Tuesday's 0-0 draw with Portugal. He did not give it up when Drogba entered the field on 65 minutes but the striker will skipper the side against Brazil today.

Drogba is more than the reigning African Football of the Year, he is credited in some quarters for ending the Ivorian civil war. Frank Simon, the African football expert with France Football magazine, says Touré needs the captaincy more than Drogba. "Kolo had the captaincy before Didier played for the national team, so maybe it means more to him. For Didier, I don't think he needs it as much."