"I felt then that that the Ivory Coast was born again."I had been totally unaware of Didier's incredible feat until I began talking to people in Abidjan.
At no point had he mentioned, let alone boasted, about his political involvement.
As soon as I landed in the capital of Drogba's native Ivory Coast, it immediately became apparent just how big a star he was.
Almost every street corner housed a giant billboard on which the Chelsea striker advertised everything from chocolate to mobile phones.
The people who mean most to me know what I am really about."Many footballers have used their influence to great effect in recent years, whether by putting their name to an inner city project or sponsoring a charity, but none has ever stopped a country tearing itself apart. Drogba is a god to the Ivorian people, not just because he is a famous footballer, but also because he is someone who speaks for the masses. "Of course," he said, "because above all I am one of them."On the way to the house where he grew up in the suburbs of Abidjan, he told me that he could cope without money; that he could easily give up all the trappings of wealth and return to a humble life back home. "The money came after my education," he said, "after I became a man." When standing on the balcony of his ancestral home, looking down on the thousands of cheering locals who had assembled as soon as word got out that he was in the village, Didier looked visibly moved.
I wondered why he had not spoken about this before, especially when the British press had been on his back?
"I don't feel I need to say anything to anybody about who I am in Africa," Drogba replied.
You will not be disappointed." Ordinarily, when a footballer tells you to jump on a plane and travel thousands of miles to West Africa for an interview, you tend to hesitate.
Civil war had been raging for five years when, moments after leading his nation to the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany back in October 2005, Drogba picked up a microphone in the dressing room and, surrounded by his team-mates, fell to his knees live on national television.He begged both warring factions to lay down their arms and, within a week, his bold wish had been granted."It was just something I did instinctively," he explained."All the players hated what was happening to our country and reaching the World Cup was the perfect emotional wave on which to ride."The culmination of the peace process came on the second day of my trip, when the White Elephants played an African Nations Cup qualifier against Madagascar in Bouake, the old rebel stronghold about 300 kilometres north of Abidjan."Seeing both leaders side by side for the national anthems was very special," Didier said."I know what I stand for and that is all that matters."Had he not, though, sometimes wanted to bite back when his integrity on the field had been called into question?
"Honestly," he said, "it doesn't bother me what I get accused of. Of course Drogba enjoys his lifestyle, but that does not mean he is detached from the world around him.