FT African Legends Series: Didier Drogba, the irreplaceable Chelsea legend
After a short while, we have to reminisce the good old days. The times when African legends where still around, playing their best football in front of a crowd of tens of thousands, and millions behind a screen. This week, we focus on Didier Drogba, the Chelsea legend who had an illustrious career in England before moving to China and the MLS to wind down his career. Most people know about his highs, the times when he was the king of Stamford Bridge and a constant menace in a head to head against Arsenal. But what about the times when his career looked in jeopardy? Here’s the other side to Didier Drogba’s story.
The Ivorian striker was brought to London by the current Manchester United boss, Jose Mourinho who was in charge of Chelsea at the time. He brought the African talent with the hope of being a backup to the Ukrainian Andriy Shevchenko, a £31 million investment made by the club in 2006. Although Drogba had arrived a year earlier, he was meant to be a temporary measure as Mourinho sought for his dream striker. Shevchenko went straight into the team but failed to live up to expectations. Didier kept his head down and found the net whenever he was handed an opportunity. In no time, it was evident that the African forward was Chelsea’s best bet as Shevchenko struggled to score more than 10 goals in the 48 matches he played between 2006 and 2009. Drogba survived that test and marched on in the blue colors.
Shortly after, the club invested in the experienced Nicolas Anelka to give competition to the Ivorian centre forward who had personalized the number 9 spot. In fact, Anelka came with so much reputation that he was expected to start ahead of Didier Drogba as they challenged for the UEFA Champions League. They eventually lost the final to local rivals Manchester United but Didier Drogba was by far one of their best players in the team. In the end, Drogba created a formidable partnership with Anelka and Malouda in a season which saw the club win back to back FA Cup titles in 2008/09 and 2009/10 as well as lifting the English Premier League title in the 2009/10 season. The Chelsea legend overcame yet another hurdle set in front of him by the then Chelsea coach, Avram Grant. Drogba proved his worth and landed a place in the First XI of the West London club.
As if these two tests were not enough, Chelsea made a mouthwatering £50 million bid for Liverpool forward, Fernando Torres in January 2011. El Niño was bought by Carlo Ancelotti because he suited the Italian’s style of play more than the traditional centre forward in Drogba. The African did not feel threatened by this record breaking signing as he was confident in his abilities. He humbly accepted being dropped to the bench and continued to work tirelessly in training to prove that he could still lead the line at Chelsea like he had done for 6 years. At the end of the 2010/11 season he scored a total of 11 goals as compared to Torres’ one goal which he scored in 14 appearances. The following season saw a significant amount of game time limited for Drogba which explains his 5 goals in the English Premier League. Even still, Torres had scored one more goal than him but the number of minutes he had played in 2012 , did not justify such a low return. As a result, Didier Drogba left the club of his dreams for greener pastures.
Two years later, Didier Drogba returned to the club he had helped win their first and only UEFA Champions League trophy to date. He claimed that the decision was made easy by the fact that it was the Special One, Jose Mourinho who made the call and wanted him again back at the club. Although this time as backup to Diego Costa, Drogba’s presence was invaluable. His influence in the dressing room saw a disjointed Chelsea team return back to the top and win the English Premier League in his first season back at the club. The Blues claimed the 2014/15 crown as well as winning the Football League Cup that same year. He scored a total of 7 goals across all competitions in his last stint at the club that recognize the African great as one of their Legends. Although he did not play much, he still contributed to the success of the club. Because of that, Didier Drogba will never be forgotten by the Chelsea fans.
Didier Drogba is irreplaceable!