José Mourinho has described it as the homecoming of a “king” and it can be
safely assumed that Peter Osgood, the original monarch of Stamford Bridge,
would happily share his throne with Didier Drogba.
A sense of destiny has followed Drogba throughout his remarkable life, all the
way from when he left the Ivory Coast with his uncle at the age of five to
that night in Munich two seasons when, against all football logic, he
inspired Chelsea to the Champions
Drogba’s last kick for the club was that winning penalty. It was inevitable,
then, certainly in the eyes of Mourinho, that this season’s knockout draw
should provide Chelsea’s
first reunion with his favourite player.
“It’s a strange feeling but, as we know him so well, we know that for him no
friends during the game,” said Mourinho on Saturday. “Before the game, big
friends and big respect for a legend. After the game, the same. But, during
the game, we have a job to do. He has his nature, he wants to score, he
wants to win. I think it is a tie to go until the end.
“He deserves a reception here even better than mine, because he deserves much
more than me. For Didier, double or three times better and bigger than I
Stirring stuff and, in an industry that is sometimes prone to unnecessary
hyperbole, probably still justified. Even taking into account the wonderful
Chelsea careers of Osgood, Lampard, John Terry and Petr Cech, there is a
strong case to say that Drogba is the greatest in the club’s history. For it
is only now, almost two years after his departure, that Chelsea are starting
to find a style and system that does not depend on his near perfect
interpretation of the lone striker’s role. Frank Lampard, for one, regards
Drogba as the best he has ever played with. “He has been a hero for this
club and will go down as a legend,” said Lampard.
“He is unique.
“There is no one like Didier as a player, not with the kind of bulldozer thing
he has got and with the sublime touch and finish that he has got. The amount
of important goals he has got for us in cup finals and big games throughout
his career makes him an icon and historical figure at Chelsea.”
Lampard’s observations, especially on the timing of Drogba’s greatest
performances, are typically perceptive. A final tally of 157 goals in 241
games during his eight-year Chelsea career is mightily impressive but still
only tells part of the story. What made Drogba stand apart was a capacity to
score with unerring consistency at the most defining moments of Chelsea’s
That was most evident in the Champions League victories against Bayern Munich
in 2012 but also only a continuation of his form in major knockout finals.
In the 10 cup finals that Chelsea have played in the Roman Abramovich era,
Drogba has scored in eight of them.
With the exception of the Europa League after he had left last year, Drogba
also scored in all seven of the cup finals that Chelsea won; four times in
the FA Cup, twice in the League Cup and, of course, once in the Champions
League. He is also the only player in history to have scored in four FA Cup
So while Drogba’s past greatness is not in doubt, the question for Chelsea
ahead of Wednesday is whether, at almost 36, he still poses anything like
the same threat.
Anyone who saw him again bully Arsenal in the pre-season Emirates Cup would
have recognised that some combination of physical power and a deft finishing
touch. Whether he will have retained sufficient pace and sharpness to
trouble John Terry and Gary Cahill remains more open to question.
Drogba was certainly playing well enough in the Champions League for
Galatasaray last year to give Mourinho what he called “a heart-attack” in
the quarter-final with Real Madrid.
He has also been a reliable goalscorer for Galatasaray over these past 13
months. Drogba has 12 so far this season, including two in the six Champions
League group games. He only scored 13 in each of his last two seasons at
Chelsea but, as we know, tended to produce his best in the most important
matches of the season. Facing Chelsea again is certainly the sort of
occasion in which Drogba has thrived.
That obviously cannot last forever but, according to Mourinho, it will be “the
same” Drogba as five or six years ago. It will also be intriguing to see if
facing Drogba does have some sort of subconscious impact on the Chelsea
players. They certainly still seem to view him with a certain sense of awe.
This, for example, is Lampard recalling when Drogba stepped up to take his
winning penalty in the Champions League final. “I’ve never been so emotional
in a game,” said Lampard. “I never had any doubt about Didier scoring. He’s
the man for the big occasion. We felt it was going to happen.
“Players were crying, tears in their eyes. Football can do that to people.
Didi gave a speech in the dressing room afterwards. I think he’s going to be
a politician one day. The personality he brings out in the squad is as much
as he does on the pitch.”
Others in the dressing-room that night have described what was “almost a
religious experience” as Drogba spontaneously started speaking to the
famously big-eared European Cup.
Mourinho believes Drogba will eventually “come home” to Stamford Bridge when
he retires. “Will Didier be always in the memory of Chelsea fans, Chelsea
board, Chelsea owner, Chelsea fellow players, Chelsea kids growing up? Yes,”
he said. “He is loved in this club by everyone. I think one day he will have
a Chelsea future.”
As Chelsea often cried out for the presence of Drogba yesterday during a
scrappy 1-0 win over Everton, the supporters also made their feelings known
when they unveiled a large banner, in Galatasaray orange, with the words
‘Drogba Legend’ on it. Whatever happens on Wednesday and then again at
Stamford Bridge in the return leg next month, their appreciation will