“At the time, José Mourinho was criticised for spending so much on a French striker, but he just replied, ‘Judge me when he leaves the club.’”
Nine years, 164 goals and 14 trophies later, Mourinho was certainly proven right.
Didier Drogba is one of Chelsea’s greatest ever players, if not the greatest. Words do not do the Prince of Stamford Bridge justice, for a man intertwined in the history of the club with countless memories, goals and trophies. He has gone on to leave a lasting legacy at Stamford Bridge, thanks to a decorated career with the Blues.
Drogba signed for £24 million from Marseille in July 2004, the fifth signing of the Mourinho era. It took him 35 days to score his first goal, and seven months for his first piece of silverware in the form of the League Cup. That was soon followed by the Blues’ first league title in 50 years, the start of something special under the Special One.
Fast forward a decade. Drogba was preparing to leave Chelsea for the second time. He left off exactly where he began, securing the Premier League title and a League Cup triumph under Mourinho. Drogba was an iconic striker with a remarkable legacy, but what is he best remembered for?
Whenever Chelsea needed a goal in a final, Drogba was always the man to rely on. The epitome of a big-game player, the Ivorian made his name with a phenomenal goalscoring record in major finals, netting nine cup final goals in blue.
The first three strikes came over the border in Wales in two League Cup finals at the Millennium Stadium. Drogba scored a crucial extra time goal in 2005 against Liverpool, before scoring both goals in the 2007 triumph over London rivals Arsenal – an opponent Didier certainly knew how to score against.
Stamford Bridge was and always will be Drogba’s home stadium, but his form at Wembley earned him the worthy nickname of ‘Mr Wembley’. He kicked off by scoring the first ever FA Cup final goal under the arch, which was the winner against Manchester United in 2007.
His goal in the League Cup final the following year was not enough to avoid defeat, losing 2-1 to bitter rivals Tottenham. It was the only major final Chelsea lost where Drogba scored, winning seven out of eight. The Blues went on to win three FA Cups in three years, with Drogba scoring in each of the finals to grab the win twice.
Drogba’s final record was unprecedented. When Chelsea needed to turn up, the Ivorian always followed suit. His first eight goals were all vital in securing silverware, but it was his ninth and final one that meant the most.
Champion of Europe at last
His final game for Chelsea. His last shot at European glory. The dying minutes of the game. On 19th May 2012, it was simply written in the stars.
Drogba’s header in the Champions League Final is one of the greatest moments in Chelsea’s history. A goal so glorious and iconic that it does not even need describing – you can picture it. Near post, in by Juan Mata, Drogba turns his body, powerful header into the roof of the net. Pandemonium.
The stars had aligned for Drogba to drag Chelsea back into the final, and they stayed in place until the final kick in Munich. There was no better man to take that final decisive penalty, that second chance of glory. It was a chance to banish the demons of 2008, where Drogba was sent off late into extra time, no chance to even take a penalty.
When Drogba’s penalty found the back of the net, it was fate. That winning penalty was the finest moment of his career and the greatest night in the history of the football club. For Drogba, it was the pinnacle of his career. For Chelsea, it was the pinnacle of their history.
Every Chelsea fan cherishes Drogba as a hero for the Champions League triumph, but his hero status in his homeland could not be for more different reasons.
The Ivory Coast was torn apart by a deadly civil war in 2002, partly arising from the need for elections after the death of president Félix Houphouët-Boigny. The country was divided by north and south, held by the rebels and the government respectively.
In 2005, the Ivorian national team secured their place at the World Cup by beating Sudan 3-1. With tensions still high back home, captain Drogba took the opportunity to speak to the nation, and gave a rousing speech to his countrymen:
“Today, we beg you, on our knees. Forgive! Forgive! Forgive! The one country in Africa with so many riches must not descend into war. Please lay down your weapons and hold elections.”
Drogba spoke as a fellow Ivorian, and his plea worked, as a ceasefire was later announced after five years of conflict. It showed the world how powerful football could be, and how influential Drogba was.
Though this may not be Chelsea related, it is one of my favourite things about Drogba. He will be remembered by Blues as a deadly goalscorer, one of the greatest strikers to ever play in blue, and the man who brought the Champions League back to London for the very first time.
But, as a human, he is brave, selfless and one who made a sacrifice to unite his war-torn country. He is a legend in every sense of the word.
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Edited by: Dan