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Didier Drogba signs in Turkey, reinforces Galatasaray’s headlining January

Jan 28, 2013, 2:11 PM EDT

UEFA Champions League Final - Chelsea Training Getty Images

It’s not Chelsea or the much-rumored Juventus move that’s lingered over the last two months, but with his switch to Galatasaray, Didier Drogba is inching back onto our soccer radars. He’s also joining a huge club, will play in Champions League, and is likely set for another significant payday. Not a bad day for one of the world’s soccer icons.

That’s because a rumor that surfaced late last week, one that  linked Drogba with the Turkish leaders, has come to fruition. The Chelsea icon who scored the final penalty kick in May’s Champions League final will join the Istanbul giants on an 18-month deal, ending his sojourn in the Chinese Super League.

Drogba, who tallied 157 all-competition goals in his eight years at Stamford Bridge, moved to Shanhai Shenhua this summer. The deal make him one of the highest paid soccer players in the world, but disappointing results combined uncertainty at the club left Drogba and former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka seeking offseason moves. Anelka has since confirmed a five-month Juventus loan that will see him miss the start of the Chinese Super League season. Drogba, after scoring eight goals in 11 games in China, is now set for a permanent move.

Drogba is currently with the Cote d’Ivoire national team participating in the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Les Elephants have won their first two matches of the tournament, though in their 3-0 win over Tunisia on Saturday, Drogba was relegated to the bench for the first time in his international career. Despite his still prodigious reputation, a 34-year-old Drogba playing on three days rest may have been too much to ask so early in the tournament.

Despite those new limitations, expect Drogba’s move to elicit echoes of the reaction that met Wesley Sneijder’s signing. Fans will question why he’s moving to Gala when he was linked with other clubs, but as the circumstances behind Sneijder’s move showed, the Istanbul giants are more than a consolation prize. For a soon to be 35-year-old who is two and a half years removed from his best days, it’s may be the perfect level.

The Turkish league may not be at the same level of England or Italy’s, but the city is an attractive landing spot for players who have spent their careers in London, Madrid, and Milan. The meeting point between west and east makes Turkey’s biggest city one of the jewels of Europe, with a move to Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe giving players a chance to play in one of the world’s great derbies. Playing in front of some of the best crowds in world soccer, players moving to Istanbul can justify leaving Europe’s more renown leagues.

MORE: Perceptions of Sneijder, Drogba lodged in 2010.

Player’s like Sneijder can look to Anelka’s lucrative Fenerbahçe move in 2005 as reason to think Turkey need not be more than a stopover. For players like Drogba, there are far worse places to play out the last chapters of their career’s story.

And come February 20, Drogba will be back in Champions League. That’s when Galatasaray, beneficiaries of a weak group, will face Schalke in the Round of 16, and while we’re sure to hear exaggerated projections of what Sneijder and Drogba mean to Gala’snc, they may be enough to edge Turkey’s champions past the enigmatic Miners.

Still, there is a question of relevance. Gala’s not going to win Champions League, and with a gap between them and second in Turkey, Drogba may not matter domestically. The team already has a wealth of attacking options, from Turkish internationals Umut Bulut and Burak Yilmaz (who have already combined for 20 league goals) to Sweden’s Johan Elmander. On the field, it’s possible Drogba won’t bring Gala anything they wouldn’t have otherwise won.

But there’s a reason we care about this signing. Even as he plays out the last act of his career, there’s only one Didier Drogba. We care about his final seasons the same way we care about David Beckham’s and Thierry Henry’s. And today, one of the world’s truly unique players landed in another exciting local, one that will reinforce the Galatasaray name to a series of soccer fans who’d never bothered to care about Turkish soccer.

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