Didier Drogba needs to return to top form but is still very much in Ivory Coast's international plans, coach Sabri Lamouchi said just days after dropping his team's captain.
"Drogba is a huge player. He has a bigger status than any other player here but he has had a difficult last eight months and he now needs to work," Lamouchi said, suggesting a possible agreement to leave Drogba out of the international squad to allow him time to settle in at his new Turkish club Galatasaray who have reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Lamouchi was speaking at a news conference as the Ivorians began their preparations for Saturday's World Cup qualifier against the Gambia in Abidjan. "He has had three different clubs in the last eight months and his time in China cost him a lot of fitness," Lamouchi said.
"It means he was not the Didier we know at the last Nations Cup," added the former France international, who dropped Drogba during this year's tournament in South Africa which the Ivorians started as favourites but suffered a surprise quarter-final exit.
"Didier is the captain of the Elephant. I'm counting on him in the World Cup qualifiers," Lamouchi said. "But he needs to get back to his competitive standards. I have no doubt that we will see the return of Didier Drogba at the highest level. Any team would need players of his great calibre."
Drogba was one of six players from the Nations Cup squad dropped for the World Cup qualifier in which the Ivorians are expected to increase their lead in Group C. They have four points from two matches. The 35-year-old former Chelsea forward has inspired the Ivorian national side to become the top-ranked team in Africa with 57 goals in 94 appearances.