Didier Drogba- A Chelsea legend, National hero and African Icon.
It was the Champions League final in 2012. Chelsea was up against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena in search of their holy grail. Ever since Roman Abramovic took charge of the club in 2003, the club had won every possible major trophy except the European Club. The West London side always experienced heartbreak in the competition. Be it the two penalty shootout defeats to Liverpool in semis or the agonizing defeat to Manchester United in the final or the infamous semi-final vs Barcelona, the competition had always been a case of so close but so far for Chelsea
On that night in Munich, it looked all set to be a Deja vu. After some remarkable defending and resistance by Chelsea, Thomas Muller gave Bayern Munich the lead in the 83rd minute. For the Stamford Bridge faithful, it looked like a similar story was about to repeat and they were once again going to fall short. However, Didier Drogba had different ideas. In the 87th minute, Chelsea won their first corner of the match. Juan Mata who was in his first season at the club and was given the club's player of the season delivered a perfect cross. A determined Drogba rushed to the ball before anyone from either team and could head the ball as strongly as one could imagine. Despite Manuel Neuer got a finger, the ball rocketed into the net. Not for the first time that season that season, Chelsea had come back from the dead because of Drogba.
The match ended up going to the penalty shootouts as it had for Chelsea in their previous appearance in the final. As faith would have it, it was Drogba, who was playing his final match for the club who stepped up to take the penalty. Memories of Chelsea fans went back to that night in Moscow where Chelsea was in a similar situation but John Terry had to step up for the kick because Drogba was given a red card. This time, the penalty went in for Chelsea and Drogba left the club after eight years giving it its greatest ever night as a parting gift. However, the Ivorian did return to the club for a year when they won the title under Jose Mourinho.
This was not the first team that Drogba had turned around an impossible situation. The Striker's impact transcended football. He used his star status for much bigger and important things. Back in 2006, his country Ivory Coast was in midst of a civil war. After securing qualification for the World Cup, Drogba gave a live speech on national television with his teammates by his side pleading for everyone involved to drop their weapons. The Chelsea striker succeeded in his aim as that night turned out as a pivotal moment in a ceasefire happening. A year later the national team set foot in the rebel capital of Bouake for an African Cup of Nations qualifier.
This was only one of the many great things Drogba has done for his country. On the footballing side of things, he finished his career as the country's all-time top scorer. However, he has a lot more than just his activity on the pitch. The Chelsea legend has built multiple hospital and schools in his country. Over time, Drogba became a darling of not just his country but the whole of Africa. He earned admiration from the people of the whole continent due to his work on and off the pitch. The footballing world started to see Drogba as an ambassador of the African people. His status in the continent was visible when the great Nelson Mandela personally called Drogba before the 2010 World Cup to tell him ‘A World Cup in Africa without you, is not a World Cup’ when his participation in the tournament was in doubt due to injury. The astonishing reception he got while coming on from the bench against Portugal told a story in itself.
Doing things when it mattered was a hobby for Drogba even on the football pitch. While a lot of players will have better goalscoring records than him, few would have scored goals. His goal in Munich was one of many he scored on big occasions. Through the course of his Chelsea career, Drogba played in 9 goals in 9 cup final. Most of them were match-defining goals. On top of which, he scored in four different FA Cup semi-finals. He netted 44 times in the Champions League which is the 13th most in the history of the competition. Many of his goals came in vital knockout games at pivotal moments.
Drogba was a part of four Premier League-winning campaigns with Chelsea. The club won the title in his first two seasons at the club. While those two years were not his most productive as an individual as only 16 goals in all competitions in both season. However, he was still an integral part of a formidable Chelsea team. His crowning glory came in the 2009-10 title win where he won the Golden Boot for scoring 29 goals in the Premier League. That season, Chelsea went into the final day of the season only 1 point ahead of Manchester United. Nothing but a win would have won Chelsea the title. Like always, Drogba stepped up the challenge by scoring a hat-trick in a memorable 8-0 win. He had also won the Golden Boot in the 2006-07 season.
His knack for a big goal was visible whenever he played against the big boys of the Premier. No team faced the wrath of the Ivorian more than Arsenal. In 12 matches against Arsenal, Drogba found the back of the net 13 times. He also scored 11 goals against Liverpool, 6 against Tottenham and 5 times against Manchester United.
It will be hard to find another player as clutch as Drogba. He produced the goods when the stakes were the highest and in the most high-pressure situations. While every goal counts as one in a player's tally, he scored the ones which people remember for a long time. This is why he will always be remembered as one of the greatest
However, if there one thing that hurts his legacy, it is his goal scoring record. After playing 254 Premier League games, Drogba only had 104 goals to his names. The likes of Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Sergio Aguero, and Harry Kane have a vastly better record. Drogba only crossed the mark of 20 goals in a season twice in his Chelsea career. However, a big reason behind this was that he was constantly troubled with Injuries and his season was inevitably cut short due to the African Cup of Nations.
Even he was not scoring goals, Drogba was always contributing to his team cause. His physicality always caused defenders problems and made him a very hard player to play against us. A lot of great defenders have called him the toughest striker to play against over the years. The Ivorian is one of the best centre-forwards ever at hold-up and link-up play which made life easier for those playing around him. A vital part of Chelsea's success was due to Frank Lampard scoring goals from midfield. It is worth remembering having a striker like Drogba who created space for him to exploit into goalscoring positions was an important factor in that happening.
Beyond his qualities on the pitch, Drogba's rise in football is a remarkable story of determination to achieve one's dream. The Ivorian had not even made his professional debut by the age of 20 which is extremely late in football terms. It was only at the age of 24 where Drogba started to play first division football after his transfer to Guingamp. The following year he made an impact in the European competitions with Marseille. It was at the age of 26 where he earned his transfer to Chelsea where he spent eight years and went on to become one of the club's greatest ever. He showed every aspiring footballer that age is only a number and it is never too late.
Ultimately, Drogba is a footballer whose name will be hard to erase from memory. Stories of him scoring in every possible big game will be narrated fondly to future generations. More importantly, he will serve as a role model for his hard work as a footballer and his great deeds on the pitch. At Chelsea, he will be remembered as a legend, in Ivory Coast as a national hero and in Africa as an Icon of the continent.Published 24 Nov 2018, 17:31 IST