On the same day that soccer superstar Didier Drogba signed a huge two-year contract to play in China, news emerged of a protest by African immigrants in the city of Guangzhou over the suspicious death of a Nigerian man at the hands of police.
Drogba, who hails from the Ivory Coast in West Africa (not too far from Nigeria) signed a two-and-a-half-year contract that will reportedly pay him $15-million per year, to play for Shanghai Shenhua, making him the highest paid player in China.
I studied all the offers I've received in recent weeks and I feel that going to Shanghai Shenhua is the right direction for me now,” Drogba said, just one month after helping his former club in the UK, Chelsea, win the European Champions League final over Bayern Munich.
Already, there is much excitement among China’s rabid soccer fans.
Shanghai Shenhua spokesman Ma Yue told The Associated Press: You can see from the online response, the fans are crazy about [Drogba]. There has never been a foreign player who has stirred up such a reaction in China. It means a lot to Chinese football and will be of immense help in spreading the CSL [Chinese Super League] brand.
The owner of Shanghai Shenhua, wealthy gaming businessman Zhu Jun, has also hired former Argentina coach Sergio Batista and another former Chelsea player, Nicolas Anelka (who is originally from Martinique in the Caribbean). While Chinese soccer has been hurt by an image of corruption and shoddy play, rising salaries have attracted famous players from Europe and elsewhere – with Drogba being the biggest signing ever.
We have been wanting to sign Didier for a while and are very happy that it has finally happened,” Zhu Jun said.
He is an incredible player, who has won so many trophies in his career. We feel that his experience and ability will be a very valuable asset to our squad. Shanghai is one of the most influential cities in the world and we are very excited to welcome Didier here.
Interestingly, Drogba also said: I hope to help promote Chinese football around the world and further improve the links between China and Africa.
Indeed, China and Africa have ever-deepening links -- Chinese officials have signed natural resources and other business deals all over Africa, while tens of thousands of Africans have migrated to China for economic opportunities (in lieu of more traditional target destinations places like Western Europe and North America).
However, these African migrants (many of whom are of Nigerian descent and concentrate in the southern city of Guangzhou) have a life that is light years away from the glamour, adulation and affluence enjoyed by Drogba.
Frequently abused and harassed by police and shunned by many Chinese who have never seen a black person before, the overwhelming majority of ordinary African traders in China struggle to survive, much less prosper. In some cases, they face brutal violence, as the case of the Nigeria who perished in police custody in Guangzhou.
Yet, Drogba will never be treated like that – his fame, wealth, talent make him beloved by China’s masses. As with U.S. basketball superstars Kobe Bryant and Lebron James (who have massive followings in China) Drogba will never suffer the indignity of police brutality or routine racism among the Chinese that the humble traders in Guangzhou encounter daily.
This is one of the bizarre end-products of globalization and migration – some immigrants are “better” than others. Some people of the same race are adored and championed, while others are reviled and rejected.
If Drogba did not excel at soccer and travelled to China as a poor immigrant from West Africa seeking some kind of livelihood, what kind of reception would have received? Would they be “happy” and “excited” to have him in their country?
Of course not, he would be either despised or coldly tolerated. As a great soccer player, Drogba will dramatically improve the quality and perception of Chinese soccer, stoke tremendous fan interest and generate millions of dollars in revenues. His salary may eventually be seen as a bargain.
In stark contrast, poor immigrants from a Third World country are generally viewed (in China and elsewhere) as an unwanted burden at best and a danger to life and property at worst.
Drogba should count his lucky stars (as he counts his money).
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.