Why Didier Drogba loved reminding this team-mate of his heroics against Newcastle United
Didier Drogba can remember every game, every goal.
There are a few Drogba goals that Newcastle United fans would rather forget, but he can recall every detail, and the striker enjoyed reminding Peter Ramage of some of those goals during their time together at Phoenix Rising in the USA.
Drogba first came to prominence when, as an Olympique Marseille player, his goals knocked Sir Bobby Robson’s Newcastle out of the UEFA Cup at the semi-final stage in 2004.
“He still reminds me of it,” said former Newcastle defender Ramage, assistant coach at Phoenix.
Drogba also sent the club out of the Carling Cup a couple of years later as a Chelsea player.
“He remembers every game and every goal,” said Ramage. “The amount of stuff he’s done throughout his career, you’d forgive him for forgetting moments, but he remembers. He remembers coming on against us in a League Cup quarter-final and scoring a free kick. He remembers that. Whenever Newcastle played Chelsea, we’d always have banter.”
Phoenix won the USL’s Western Conference play-offs in 2018, and Drogba, aged 40, scored three post-season goals.
“When he first came as a player I was worried, as I didn’t know if he was coming for a last paycheck, but he wanted to win,” said Ramage, who played 51 career games for Newcastle.
“When we won the Western Conference, he was like a little kid lifting the trophy in front of 5,000 people. The celebration he did when Chelsea won the Champions League, he was doing the same celebration with Phoenix Rising. It was incredible.”
Ramage returned to Tyneside at the end of the 2017 season and started coaching United’s Under-13s.
“I had 18 months there as a player,” said Ramage. “It came to an end, and I began coaching at the Academy. Ben Dawson and Joe Joyce were brilliant and got me in. I was working part-time with the Under-13s. I was loving it.
“For me, stepping out of the game and going to that level was a great learning curve. It was what I needed after playing.
“Then the opportunity came to go back to Phoenix. It was totally out of the blue. I grasped it with both hands after speaking to Ben and Joe about what would be best for me. I thought I would have regretted it if I didn’t. It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.”
Ramage returned to coach his former team-mates, including Drogba, one of the best strikers of his generation. How was that?
“I’d played with Dids the year before,” said Ramage. “He came in 2017, so we’d had a relationship. I’d played with him as a team-mate, and I was no kind of coaching him, but he was part-owner of the football club, so it’s hard to coach your owner!
“Because of who he was, and how he’s led his life, he was first-class. He was as helpful for the staff as he was the players. He was one of the best strikers of his generation. His knowledge is second-to-none. He was receptive to constructive criticism. He wasn’t going to shut you down. Sometimes he would agree with you, sometimes not. It was an incredible six months for me as an assistant.
“He was one of the best I’ve worked with in terms of his preparation. It was a real eye-opener in terms of how it should be done, and he ruled the dressing room. It’s Didier Drogba, you’re not going to go against him!
“You’ve just got to allow him to be a match-winner, and invariably that’s what he was. The fear of that one moment Didier could bring, kind of got us through games. We had a hell of a team. Because of the players around him, we got the best out of him.”
The transition from playing to coaching was seamless for Ramage, who played for Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers after leaving Newcastle 12 years ago.
“I never really had the opportunity to sit down and think whether I wanted to play on or not," said Ramage. “When it came to the end of the 2017 season, Ben was on the phone, and I didn’t have the thought of ‘do I want to continue?’. I was loving working with the Under-13s. I didn’t fancy spending half the week on the M1, or moving to another club in America. It just kind of happened that I finished without even thinking about it.”
Ramage – who made 69 appearances for United – doesn’t have a coat at his Arizona home, but he was wrapped up warmly when he spoke to the Gazette during a break on a chilly Tyneside. The 36-year-old might not miss the cold, but he misses home – and his boyhood club.
And pull of the North East – and Newcastle – is strong. Ramage would love to one day return to the club, which is looking to recruit a new Under-23 coach.
“I think everyone knows I’m a Newcastle fan, and would love to be working at back the club in some capacity somewhere down the line,” said Ramage, who helped coach Phoenix to the USL Championship Western Conference title last year. “Whether that comes about or not, who knows?
“Phoenix has become my second home. There’s a progression at the football club. They know my feelings on where I see myself. I’m happy where I am, but I’ve always got one eye on what’s happening back home.”