Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we take a look at Didier Drogba. The Ivorian made 341 appearances for Chelsea from 2004 to 2012 and then made a return to the club for the 2014/15 season, where he turned out a further 40 times. In total, the striker netted 164 goals for the club.
Returning Players – Didier Drogba
First Spell At Chelsea
When Jose Mourinho first arrived at Chelsea, he made one thing clear to the Chelsea board – to sign Didier Drogba. The Chelsea board and fans alike were somewhat bemused. Why would Mourinho want a 26-year-old striker who had never made a splash in Europe and had only turned pro at 21? Especially for the price tag of £24 million, which was considered a premium at the time.
However, the Blues boss never had doubts. It was Drogba’s performance for Marseille against Mourinho’s Porto that convinced him of his talents. Drogba scored and assisted in a game where he tore the eventual Champions League winners to shreds.
Drogba’s impact at the club was instant. Although he only scored ten league goals in 26 appearances, the striker helped Chelsea to win their first Premier League title – a first league title in over 50 years. Drogba also scored in the 3-2 victory over Liverpool in the League Cup final. This would be the start of Drogba’s incredible goal scoring record in finals for Chelsea in which he scored ten goals in ten major finals for the Blues.
It is hard to win the Premier League, but even more difficult to retain it. However, defending the title is what Drogba and Chelsea did in the 2005/06 season. Drogba continued to score goals but it was his impressive assist tally of 14 in the league that made him stand out. The Ivorian improved his game to become a more well-rounded striker, capable of linking the play and creating chances for his teammates as well as being clinical himself.
However, it was the 2006/07 season that Drogba emerged as one of the most feared strikers in Europe. 44 goals and assists, including the winner in both the FA Cup and League Finals, really placed Drogba into the company of Europe’s elite.
Perhaps the biggest stain on Drogba’s Chelsea career is the 2008 Champions League final against Manchester United. At 1-1, the game was finely poised, but late into the second half, Drogba was sent off for striking Nemanja Vidic in the face. John Terry stepped up to take the fifth penalty in the shootout but slipped as he struck the ball. Drogba had let his team down but he was to have his redemption four years later.
Drogba’s best season at Chelsea was undoubtedly the 2009/10 double-winning season. The Ivorian won the golden boot with 29 goals, while also providing 13 assists in just 32 games. Drogba gave one of the most complete seasons by any striker in Premier League history, playing with a ferocious mix of pace, power and technique. Winning his third league title, Drogba topped the season off with yet another win in the FA cup final.
At this point Drogba had won almost everything there was to win in the game, but one title alluded him – the Champions League. At the start of the 2011/12 season, many thought that Chelsea’s best chance to win the Champions League was behind them. The core of the team consisting of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Drogba were all well over 30. It was a case of now or never for that Chelsea team.
After struggling to get through the group stage, Chelsea were drawn against Napoli in the round of 16. They lost the away leg 3-1 and many gave them no chance to turn it around at Stamford Bridge. But, in true spirit, Drogba opened the scoring with a trademark header at the near post. This galvanised the team to win 4-1 on the night and progress to the next round.
Drogba was equally inspirational as he scored a priceless winner against Barcelona in the home leg of the semi-final. Although he did not score in the away leg, his energy and persistence upfront was a massive factor in Chelsea comeback, managing to draw 2-2 with ten men and sending them into the Champions League final.
Without many of their key players, Chelsea had a mammoth task to beat Bayern Munich in their own stadium. However, in typical Drogba fashion, the Ivorian turned up for his team in a final. With only minutes to go, Drogba equalised with a bullet header, keeping the dream alive. The game went to penalties and this time, Drogba was there to take the all-important fifth penalty. He sent the goalkeeper the wrong way and realised his dream of making Chelsea European champions. This was Drogba’s last kick of his first spell at Chelsea, cementing himself as a legend at the Bridge for eternity.
He ended his first Chelsea tenure with 157 goals, with an impressive 104 coming in the Premier League.
Teams Drogba Played for in Between
Drogba left Chelsea in the summer of 2012, heading to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua. It was quite a forgettable period in Drogba’s career. He scored eight goals in 11 games for Shanghai but it was clear that the forward wanted to return to Europe to compete against Europe’s best once again.
Drogba joined Turkish giants Galatasaray in 2013. He immediately became a fan favourite, scoring five minutes into his debut. He won the Turkish Super Cup in his second season, scoring the winner once again. Wherever Drogba went in his career he always turned up in a cup final.
However, it was in the Champions League where Drogba made his mark for Galatasaray. In his first season, he scored a great goal for the Turkish club against European giants Real Madrid and looked a threat all night long. He proved that, despite his age, he could continue to perform at the highest level. In his second season, Galatasaray were drawn against Chelsea in the round of 16 meaning he would make his return to West London. Although he was not able to help his team beat Chelsea, he received a hero’s welcome back at the Bridge.
Return To Chelsea
In the summer of 2014, Drogba was re-signed by Chelsea by the same manager who convinced him to join ten years earlier. It would be in a different role, however. At 36, Drogba was not the same player he was when he first joined, but his experience and leadership qualities were still an asset to the club.
Having signed Diego Costa and Loic Remy, Drogba was the third choice striker, but he made a difference whenever called upon. In the little minutes he played, Drogba scored seven goals, helping his team to yet another Premier League title and League Cup triumph.
His goal against Manchester United helped earn a point at their biggest title rival and his equaliser away at Leicester City started an inspired comeback to extend their lead at the top of the table. His professionalism was commendable, happy to let an in-form Costa take the starting spot, but ready to play whenever required.
Although we did not see the same Drogba of years passed, the class was still very much on show. Drogba was able to adapt his game to become a striker that other players could link off, while still retaining his deadly aerial ability and finishing. During his final game, he was carried off the pitch by his teammates and an ovation from both sets of fans. A fitting send-off for the king of the Bridge. As far as players returning to former clubs go, Drogba’s return to Stamford Bridge was a fairy-tale.