A player that has defined a generation of Premier League football, Didier Drogba. This is a look over his career.
“Chelsea were very good for me … I shared a special relationship with the club. It was a difficult decision to leave them.” – Didier Drogba
Arriving in 2004 as part of Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea project, a 26-year-old Didier Drogba was a relatively unknown commodity on an expanding European market. Apart from those who watched the Champions League or Ligue 1 in 2003, where he scored 19 goals in 35 games for Marseille, he was a player a very little amount of people knew a very little amount about. Because of the lack of first class football to his name, the £24m price tag that Marseille put on Didier in the summer of 2004, was seemingly absurd. However, the young mastermind behind Chelsea’s redevelopment, a certain Jose Mourinho, saw extreme potential in the Ivorian front man and agreed to the asking price.
If I was to go back in time and ask Chelsea fans if they thought the deal was value for money, I’m sure I would get a different response to what I would get if I asked today. Drogba proved all his critics wrong. Entertaining the world with some of the best performances seen in the Premier League and other major club tournaments.
Drogba moved from his native Ivory Coast, West Africa, to France in 1988 when he was 10, living with his uncle in order to pursue a career in football. He started his career at Dunkirk before moving to Abbeville and Levallois, spending a year at each club. He then was offered a youth contract at the French club Le Mans in 1997. In 1998 he received his first professional contract, aged 21, after he proved himself in the Le Mans youth team. The full contract allowed him to expose his talent in the formidable French leagues. He managed to score 12 goals in 64 appearances, in his four-year spell with the club.
It was not until the 2002/2003 season that he realized his potential, scoring 17 goals in 34 appearances in Ligue 1 for Guingamp. This averages out to a goal every other game, which for most strikers is the target at the start of the season. During the September of the same season he made his first international appearance for Côte d’Ivoire and managed to score his first international goal the following February.
“This is the reward for all my hard work, but also a sign of encouragement that I can still get better. I know that I am capable.” – Didier Drogba
Allain Perrin, the manager of Marseille at the time scouted Drogba during the season that he was at Guingamp. He noticed that Drogba was a powerful striker who possessed the ability not only to hold the ball up, but to score goals too. Drogba quickly moved to Olympique de Marseille in July 2003 for a reported fee of £3.3 million.
Unfortunately for Drogba, the manager who had signed him, Perrin, was sacked not long after he arrived and Jose Anigo took charge. Thankfully for the striker, he kept his place in the starting eleven and registered 19 goals in 35 games, finishing as the third highest scorer in Ligue 1. He also managed to pick up the National Union of Professional Footballers Player of the Year award, which was quite some achievement for someone who had only started to make his mark on the French leagues a season or so before. His scoring success at Marseille continued into Europe, as he helped the club to reach the 2004 UEFA Cup Final, scoring 5 goals in the Champions League before Marseille got knocked into UEFA Cup, where he scored 6 on the run in to the final.
He made such an impact at Marseille that he has become somewhat of a club legend, even though he only played for them for 12 months. His 2003 Marseille shirt has been framed and displayed in the Basilica of Marseille ever since he presented it to the church before the UEFA Cup Final in Gothenburg, where Marseille lost to Valencia 2-0.
“In all their very important matches he has put a stamp on it.” - Gianfranco Zola on Drogba after the Champions League Final
Chelsea – Years to Remember
When Mourinho was employed to be part of the ‘Russian Revolution’ at Chelsea in the summer of 2004 he knew he would have to exploit the money that he would be given to the best of his ability. He would have to be shrewd in the transfer market as to guarantee success in the short-term, and look to build upon that in the years that would follow. Mourinho would be replacing the relatively successful Claudio Ranieri as manager, a clever Italian who was known for his transfer nous. Mourinho looked to replicate this, by push his signings to become title winners, and not just a team of players that ‘nearly did it.’
Mourinho was interested in the enigma that was Didier Drogba as soon as he commenced his tenure at the south London club. Jose made him his fourth signing after such players as Del Horno, Ricardo Carvalho and Shaun Wright-Phillips. He cost Mourinho £24 million. A large sum of money for someone so unproven in the top leagues, however Mourinho believed that the form Drogba had shown in Europe the season before was an indication of the future. Only Michael Essien cost more than Drogba in Mourinho’s first transfer window, at £24.4 million and he only became the third highest fee that Mourinho splashed out during his time at Chelsea because of the signing of Andrei Shevchenko for £30.8 million.
Drogba made a quick start to his Chelsea career, scoring in his third match for the club, against Crystal Palace with a bullet header. However only one week after opening his account for Chelsea he suffered a torn stomach muscle and therefore was ruled out for a lengthy two months. One the other hand however, Drogba finished his maiden season with 16 goals and 5 assists, showing what a real prospect he was. In the first year of the Russian Revolution, Chelsea had won the Premiership for the first time in over fifty years. They had also secured the League Cup thanks to an extra time winning goal against Liverpool from Didier Drogba himself.
The 2005/2006 season started just as the season before had finished, with Chelsea winning trophies. Drogba single-handedly saw off Arsenal in a 2-0 win for the Community Shield, showing that his credentials were really growing for the big occasion with 3 goals in the two finals. He became a more influential part of the team in his second season for the club, again scoring 16 goals, but he set up his team mates a more impressive 11 times during the season. He was shaping into a complete forward. Powerful, intelligent and clinical. Frank Lampard was largely down to this transformation in Drogba. Lampard allowed Drogba to drift around the pitch, knowing that Lampard could either find him or he would be on the end of something Drogba produced. Drogba also learnt to hold the ball up more successfully as Lampard’s forward thinking runs beyond him allowed Drogba to be able to find more key passes in the offensive areas of the field. Chelsea went on to retain the league title with two games to play, becoming only the second team to win back-to-back English titles in the Premier League era.
The Chelsea trophy cabinet was needing ever expansion, as again in 2007 Chelsea won the League Cup and the FA Cup. Drogba again scored both goals in the 2-1 League Cup win over Arsenal, and scored the deciding goal against Manchester United in the first FA Cup played at the ‘New’ Wembley – this really emphasised his big game profile. The season was a personal success for Drogba as he hit 33 goals in all competitions, more than his tally in the previous two seasons combined. He also managed to register two hat tricks during the season, one in the Champions League, and one in the league against Watford. On a more personal note he won the prestigious African Footballer Of The Year Award over Samuel Eto’o, whilst also finding himself in the PFA Team Of The Year for 2006/07. Unfortunately he missed out on the PFA Player Of The Year due to Cristiano Ronaldo having a superb season in Manchester red.
2008 was not such a positive year for Drogba, as he reportedly cried at the prospect of Jose Mourinho leaving the club, saying, ”Mourinho’s departure destroys a certain familiarity we had at the club. Many of us used to play first and foremost for the manager. Now we need to forget those feelings and find another source of motivation.” Off the back of this Drogba became the centre of attention on the transfer market as he was reported saying, “I want to leave Chelsea, something is broken here.” Speculation was blown out of all proportion with interest said to have come from Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. He later said he regretted his remarks and was ‘”fully committed to Chelsea Football Club.” Later that year Chelsea found themselves in the Champions League Final, playing Manchester United after a spell of Drogba goals. However, as the story of 2008 went for Didier, it didn’t end in happiness. He was to become the second ever player to be sent off in a European Cup Final, after Jens Lehmann in 2006. It was extra-time, the 117th minute, and Drogba and Vidic squared up to each other, and Drogba raised his hands and slapped the Manchester United centre half. Chelsea went on to lose 6-5 on penalties. Drogba reignited his critic’s fire after a few years of unanswerable positivity.
"I just love the game. I love playing." - Didier Drogba
The Torres Problem
Drogba continued to be a real force in the Premier League for the next few seasons. Picking up trophy after trophy and scoring goal after goal, in finals especially. The highlight of his goal scoring feats during this time is his record goal tally for Chelsea in 2009/2010 season where he accumulated 37 goals and the golden boot.
However in January 2011 Chelsea signed Liverpool’s Spanish striker, Fernando Torres, for an English League record of £50 million. This cast Drogba’s first team place into real doubt. It would be hard for a manager to ignore a theoretical £50m cheque sitting on the bench, they would have no choice but to play Torres. Abramovich was, in effect, indirectly pushing Drogba out. He realised that he was coming towards the end of his career, and therefore his first team appearances were greatly reduced, and with this so was his goal tally.
Even though Torres led the line in 2012 season for Chelsea, the misfiring Spaniard never really cemented his place with consistent form. 2012 would become a great opportunity for Drogba to finish his Chelsea career on a high if he could reclaim his place. It was announced on the Chelsea website that: “Drogba will be leaving the club when his contract expires at the end of June”. By this time Roberto Di Matteo had been appointed as manager, rather than Andre Villas Boas who hardly gave Didier a look into the team.
Di Matteo’s squad made it to two finals. The FA Cup and the Champions League after overcoming Tottenham and Barcelona in the respective semi-finals. Drogba scored in both semi-finals, crucially taking the team through. He then became the first player to score in four different FA Cup Finals, as he netted the winner in Chelsea’s 2-1 triumph over Liverpool on the 5th of May.
On the 19th of May Chelsea faced a strong Bayern Munich team in the Champions League Final. Bayern took the lead in the 83rd minute from a Thomas Muller goal, however Drogba squeezed home a header from a Mata corner late on to take the game to extra-time and eventually penalties.
It was set up, I believe it was. Surely there is a script writer somewhere? It was just too perfect. Drogba stepped up circa 10pm on that fateful night with the opportunity to claim Chelsea’s only missing trophy. The one Roman had always wished for. The one that Drogba needed to finish his personal trophy cabinet. He ran towards the ball and stroked it towards the goal. The rest is history. Drogba’s headed effort marked his ninth goal in nine cup final appearances for Chelsea – an unrivaled record for a sublime talent.
Drogba – The Enigma
Drogba is undoubtedly one of the best centre forwards in the world, yet he still manages to polarise opinion with his theatrical and temperamental style of play taking the shine off his incredible talent. When prompted by an interviewer regarding allegations about his tendency to dive, he said: “Sometimes I dive, sometimes I stand.” His arrogance on and off the field is not always loved by the majority of football fan’s, especially as we know that when he wants to perform, he can be one of the best around. In his Chelsea career he picked up 55 Yellow and 5 red cards.
The Stampeding Elephants
Drogba’s first cap for Ivory Coast came on 8th September 2002 against South Africa, however he didn’t score his first goal for ‘The Elephants’ until 11th February 2003 when Ivory Coast played Cameroon (they went on to win 3–0).
By February 2006, Drogba was captaining his country to their second ever African Cup of Nations Final, however they lost on penalties to Egypt and Drogba missed the deciding spot kick. Drogba was heartbroken and seeked help from manager Jose Mourinho, who he saw as a close friend. He responded to this defeat by scoring 33 goals for Chelsea, a personal best up to that point.
Drogba then guided his team to World Cup qualification, where they were drawn in the ‘group of death.’ He scored his first World Cup goal, but his country crashed out in the group stages after only winning once, against Serbia and Montenegro.
He was named the African Player of the Year for the second time in his career in 2009 after his epic goal scoring season he had with Chelsea, whilst also steering his beloved country to a second successive World Cup qualification.
Drogba tried to avenge this in 2010 where he scored 6 goals in five qualification games however it was the same old story once they got into the competition proper. They again crashed out in the first round after losing to Brazil.
On 19 June 2012, Drogba declared he would be joining Chinese Super League side Shanghai Shenshua, joining his former Chelsea teammate Nicolas Anelka. He will earn a reported £200,000 a week, however he will donate 50% of his wages to his home town in Africa.
In all, Drogba is one of the most talented footballers of his generation, and maybe the most talented to have ever come out of Africa. He helped ‘The Blues’ to ten titles in his eight year spell, whilst scoring 157 goals in the process. He has become not just a god in the Chelsea blue, but a god amongst men in his home country. During the civil war a few years ago in Côte d’Ivoire, Drogba became a figurehead of the campaign for it to stop. He is worshipped in his country for bringing such good fortune for the people, and therefore he is respected hugely around the world for not just being ‘another one of those rich footballers.’ He has shown he cares for what he once was. He was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME Magazine in 2010 after bringing peace to his home country.
I respect him as a man, and as a footballer. A player who could change a game with a single touch. A player who could always make himself the centre of attention, for good and bad. Didier Drogba has been a true servant to every team he has played for, and now that he is moving on, I have really begun to realise what he has done for the modern game.
Didier Drogba – A player who wears his heart on his sleeve.
436 Club Appearances
207 Club Goals
85 International Caps
55 International Goals
4 FA Cups
3 Premier League Titles
2 Carling Cups
2 African Player Of The Year Awards
2 Premier League Golden Boots
1 Champions League