Wage slavery is long gone for those who play at the peak of Ufabet European football. A backdrop of the Financial Times’s luxury-goods supplement ‘How to Spend It might be more fitting. In either case, the era of print is closing; for today’s players, fame and presence has been multiplied a thousand times by the arrival of the digital screen in all its forms, and the ways in which the newly liberalized African media has embraced the multi-faceted celebrity of these football icons.
Of all the African players who have straddled these multiple worlds and meanings, Didier Drogba is without peer. Drogba’s occupation of local media space was comprehensive – a survey of the Ivorian sports press found that he featured in 80 per cent of player photographs and nearly two-thirds of front pages. At his peak 2009, his presence in the urban spaces of Côte d’Ivoire was pervasive. The wooden walls of barbers’ shops in the slums featured his carefully painted image.
A thousand shacks were enlivened by posters of him in flight; so too the battered doors of Abidjan’s gbakas, ยูฟ่าเบท the vans that serve as the city’s buses. A local brewery served up Drogba beer, and his name became a synonym in nochui, the local Franco-African slang, for ‘strong’ or ‘tough’.
Another measure of players’ popular celebrity is their occupation of musical space. Drogba had a major presence, but he was not alone. While at Olympique de Marseilles and Chelsea he became well known for celebrating his goals with a dance move that combined a horizontal swipe of the arm with a series of body jerks. This was part of the repertoire of Coupé-Décalé – a dance and music style invented by Ivorian migrants in the African nightclubs of Paris – which was hugely popular both in the diaspora and back in Côte d’Ivoire.
A fan of the genre, Drogba was given its ultimate accolade by the invention of a dance move, the Drogbacite, based on his movements when playing. This in turn was referenced in dozens of popular songs, from ‘Drogbacite’ by Shanaka Yakuza and DJ Dream Team to DJ Arsenal’s ‘Shelobouka’. Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan, who rapped on three albums with hiplife star Castro, has a similar relationship to Azonto, an Accra dance craze.
Originally called Appe or ‘work’, it mainly involved mimicking tasks and chores like driving, ironing, sweeping and washing. Gyan celebrated scoring the deciding goal against Nigeria in a 2010 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier with a hot routine that combined short hops and mime.
It went viral online and triggered a craze on the dance floors. Samuel Eto’o and Alex Song have both featured in Cameroonian tunes. Maahlox’s Alexandre Song Dans Ton Dos’ celebrated the latter’s red card that followed a sharp elbow on Croat Mario Mandzukic at the 2014 World Cup. Samuel Eto’o’s old-man celebration – a creaking walk with an imaginary stick – was a riposte to José Mourinho’s criticism of his decline, and became both a dance move and a song, ‘La Danse du Grand Père’, by Le Featurist.