On 20th July 2004, Chelsea signed a 26-year-old Marseille striker in the name of Didier Drogba. Without doing anything particularly spectacular in his one season at Les Phocéens, people questionned Mourinho’s sanity, to which he replied: “Judge him when he leaves the club.”
Eight years on, Chelsea’s fourth highest goal-scorer of all-time will be leaving for pastures anew. Didier Drogba’s time at Chelsea has come to an end. Ten club trophies and 26 personal accolades later, now is the time to do exactly what Mourinho asked.
When Drogba arrived, it was not a signing that provoked real excitement. There was hope and expectation amongst Chelsea supporters, but in no way was it a signing of the calibre of Shevchenko or Torres.
Luck did not seem to be on his side from a young age. He moved to France to join his uncle to pursue his footballing dream. Starting out as a right-back, he was converted to a centre-forward role at Abbeville. He was awarded a trial at Vannes, only to have to quit football for a year as he failed his exams.
He desperately tried to make up for a lost year, but after a 12-month absence of football, no club were willing to risk taking him on. When Guingamp did, he broke his toe, such was his luck.
But two crucial seasons, including 11 goals in the 2003/2004 UEFA Cup, attracted attention, and Chelsea were first to get his signature.
The rest is history. The hard work has paid off. His importance to Chelsea could not be understated. He is one of only 22 to hit a century of Premier League goals. He is also Chelsea’s leading goal-scorer in European competitions (34 goals).
It is indicative of his importance, and a total testament to his sheer ability, that every single Chelsea manager under the Abramovich era has built their side around him. ‘The Chelsea Way’ was the 4-3-3 formation, but even when fellow players were dropped or moved on, Drogba was always the man at the top, such was his quality. Drogba has not let anyone down, leading the line with distinction.
So it is to his credit that people now regard him as one of the best strikers of all-time. Jamie Carragher spoke highly of the Ivorian, remarking that when Drogba strikes, “sometimes, there was nothing that could be done.”
The statistics are on Drogba’s side immensely. Though, at times, beyond frustrating, this is a man that produced when called upon. Often criticised in his early Chelsea days for diving, he has won fans around with his record in finals.
Drogba has scored nine times in nine finals, and all bar the 2008 Carling Cup, Chelsea have ended up on the winning side. No Drogba goal will ever be more crucial than the Champions League equaliser last month against Bayern Munich with two minutes to go. When the spotlight is on him, he shines brightly.
But not all eight years have been great for the 34-year-old. There have been many highs, but lows too. 16 goals in his first season clinched Chelsea their first league title in 50 years, setting his Chelsea career off to a good start.
But when the tough got going, the going got tough. Just two goals between November and April in the season after left some fans disgruntled. There were accusations of diving and over-elaborating falls to waste time.
But football is a simple game: score goals to relieve pressure. Drogba did just that. 33 goals in 60 appearances in the 2006/2007 campaign and heads were turning. An extra-time FA Cup Final winner against Manchester United, and people were appreciating the man nicknamed “The Horse” by his Ivorian team-mates.
2007 saw a low in which he expressed his desire to leave following the departure of Mourinho: “Something is broken… the damage is big in the dressing room.“
But fans quickly forgave him for his comments, and there is a sense of relief Drogba did not leave in 2007, as 2010 was one of his personal highs, winning the Golden Boot after scoring 37 goals in 44 appearances, and helping Chelsea achieve a historic Premier League and FA Cup double.
And now is the time for reminiscing. This is no time for football to feel sorry for itself. All good things come to an end. This is no time to cry because Drogba’s time is over; more a chance to smile because it happened.
Didier Drogba is not just a typical target man, he is the definition of “target man”. He has set a model for future generations to strive for.
Today is the last day Didier Drogba is officially a Chelsea player. Mourinho was not wrong. Drogba has produced the goods, and £24 million has been well spent. As Mourinho said himself, “I am the special one off the pitch, but he [Didier Drogba] was the special one on it.”
157 goals and 71 assists in 342 appearances has helped Chelsea win three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two Carling Cups and the coveted Champions League.
Didier Yves Drogba Tébily, you will be sorely missed.