The Champions League final was very much a tale of two strikers, on one side Mario Gomez serial squanderer of chances on the night and the touch of an old 50 pence piece, on the other Didier Drogba, scorer of his only chance and possessor of ice cold nerve in slotting away the victory sealing penalty. The big occasion requires a big man, a decisive mind, a sense of self-assurance. Gomez appeared to be none of these, Drogba embodied them. Drogba continued his incredible run of scoring in cup finals, eight out of nine for the West London club, seven of them resulting in victory. Three premier league titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups were eclipsed by Chelsea’s first ever European Cup success. We now know that decisive kick will be the Ivorian’s self-imposed ending to his Chelsea career, and a better ending he could not have scripted himself.
For people who have consistently performed in the upper echelons of their field the decision to bow out, or more importantly knowing when to, is ultimately a difficult one. Few are presented with the opportunity to depart on a career high and even when they are few take it. Therefore, Drogba should be applauded for his decision to exit the stage, no more so than by the Stamford Bridge faithful. Drogba would have left a legend regardless, however now will almost take on an air of immortality in the clubs history. He came; he saw and after eight years he finally conquered but things could have easily been much different.
After his first season at the club, despite helping to secure a Carling Cup and Chelsea’s first title for over fifty years, Drogba was a figure of embarrassment for many of his own fans. Drogba’s injury feigning theatrics were booed by his own supporters and many called for him to be sold. Luckily for Drogba, and Chelsea, Jose Mourinho was at hand, realising that his talents as a line leading striker were potentially unmanageable for opposition defences and that his unique skill-set was not available anywhere else on the market. A quiet word in Drogba’s ear aided in toning the down the acrobatic simulations although, Barcelona will tell you they never truly went away. But then again the words pot, kettle and black come rushing to mind at the thought of Barca’s gripes.
Nevertheless, unlike in his first season the less gentlemanly aspects of Drogba’s game were overshadowed by his destructive goal scoring powers on the pitch. He presented the ram-rodding sharp end of Chelsea’s most successful ever spine and offered goals into the bargain, securing the Premier League’s Golden Boot on two separate occasions. The adulation of the Chelsea supporters was secured, as was every domestic trophy by 2007. Yet, European glory seemed destined to elude him and often in controversial circumstances most notably at the end of the 2008 and 2009 campaigns.
Chelsea reached the first ever Champions League final in Moscow against Manchester United. An enthralling match went all the way to penalties in which Drogba took no part after foolishly slapping Nemanja Vidic in extra-time. The Blues were defeated and potentially Drogba’s one shot at European glory had ended in shame. Imagine that had been his enduring Champions League memory or his final act in a Blue shirt.
A year later and it was poor luck rather than stupidity that would prevent Drogba from a second stab European stab at United. A last gasp goal from Andres Iniesta and questionable refereeing decisions from Tom Ovrebo saw Chelsea crash out at the semi-final stage with Drogba branding UEFA ‘a f*ckin disgrace’ on live television. How easily that could have been his and our lasting memory of Chelsea’s duels with Barcelona rather than his goal in the first leg of this year’s semi-final and his teams second leg re-enactment of ‘The Battle of Thermopylae’. On both occasion’s Chelsea were stewarded by caretaker manager’s as they are now and on both occasions the next man through the door could have seen fit to dispose of Drogba leaving such events as his final word.
Football provides us with so much but never certainty thus, that’s why it enthrals us so. Chelsea are once again at a crossroads with no guarantee that their triumph in Munich is a first or final chapter. Many questions lie unanswered; will Di-Matteo remain? Can he build on events at the Allianz? Now that all has been won does Roman Abramovich still have the hunger to invest and strive for more? Drogba knows how easily things can go against you, how quickly the football coin can flip. He has experienced the harsher side of it in the past. And what’s more uncertainty over the Chelsea’s future competitiveness ultimately meant that departing with the decisive kick in Chelsea’s most famous night is a finale to grandiose to turn down, too perfect to shun.
It is likely that any doubt in his mind on whether to stay or go was erased by the way events unfolded at The Allianz. Things could easily have been different; he could have been just another Chelsea hero. Instead, he’s Didier Drogba; ‘Chelsea’s Champions League hero’ whose Stamford Bridge career may have burnt out, but will now never fade away.