ALTHOUGH FC PUNE CITY entered the overseas transfer market relatively late, they are catching up fast. After their three initial signings in in quick succession, the Hritik Roshan co-owned franchise has now secured a new defensive medio for the upcoming 2nd edition of Indian Super League.
Didier Zokora, of Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla fame, declared on Twitter earlier today that he has joined the Orange-Purple Briagade (while displaying a slight confusion about the name of his new club). His addition provides more stability to the Pune City midfield, which already possesses a fair amount of substance in the form of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Nick Shorey and Lenny Rodrigues.
Zokora came out of the youth system of AESC Mimosas who play in Côte d'Ivoire Ligue 1, the top-tier league in Ivory Coast. In 1999, at age 18, he was given a professional contract, and made his senior debut soon after. That season he was used sparingly by AESC; making 10 appearances in the league, scoring once. But he did get to taste his first silverware: he played through all 120 minutes of the 1999 CAF Super Cup match which Mimosas won 3-1 in the end.
In 2000 he moved to Belgian side Koninklijke Racing Club Genk, where he quickly settled into the starting line up. He featured heavily in the squad that went on to win the Belgian Pro League in 2001-02, and reached the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history. Zokora spent 4 years at Racing Genk, where he earned 126 caps, scoring once.
Zokora spent the next 2 seasons at newly-promoted French Ligue 1 side Association Sportive de Saint-Étienne Loire. At Saint-Étienne his sturdy stint of 66 league appearances, coupled with his exploits at 2006 FIFA World Cup, saw him make a high-profile move to Tottenham Hotspur for a reported transfer fee of £8.2 million. After missing out on the initial months due to illness, Zokora slowly made himself home at the North London outfit and became a regular starter. He was part of the squads that made it to the League Cup final two seasons in a row, winning once. The 2008 League Cup victory against Chelsea stands as Tottenham's only piece of silverware in the last 16 years. In his 3 years with the Spurs, Zokora appeared 134 times, scoring one goal during the penalty shooutout with PSV Eindhoven at the UEFA Cup.
In the summer of 2009 Zokora was sold to La Liga side Sevilla Fútbol Club for an undisclosed transfer fee. His presence was influential in Sevilla's 4th place finish in the Spanish League that season, which earned them an UEFA Champions League spot. His debut season culminated with Sevilla defeating Atlético Madrid 2-0 to claim the Copa del Rey. Overall, Zokora was used in 49 league games by Sevilla over the 2 seasons he spent there.
In 2011, Turkish Super Lig club Trabzonspor A.Åž. purchased Zokora for a €5 million transfer fee. He spent 3 years there, making 78 league appearances, before making a move to their league rivals Akhisar Belediyespor. Afte a mid-table finish to their 2014-15 league campaign where he made 25 appearance, Zokora parted ways with them and signed for FC Pune City.
Parallely running through his club career was an illustrious 12 year stint with the Ivory Coast national team. He represented Ivory Coast in 3 World Cups, and helped Ivory Coast reach the 2012 African Cup of Nations final, losing out to Zambia 8-7 in the penalty shootout. All in all, he made 123 appearances for Ivory Coast, making him the most capped player for the country. He scored one goal along the way.
Being a midfielder with heavy defensive tendencies who has also played as a left back, Didier Zokora will act as a reliable first line of defence for Pune City. His keen pssing sense also opens up a stable supply line to Yendrick Ruiz. Coming off a mediocre first season, Pune City will be eager to make an impact in ISL 2, and the inclusion of Zokora seems like a step in the right direction.