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Monday, 24 February 2014
Disarray to glory
"I am lucky to have this special relationship with the fans. I will miss them but they will always be in my heart." - Those were the words of Didier Drogba when he left Chelsea in the summer of 2012. On Wednesday, the striker is set to be in the opposing Galatasaray team...
On the background of the crisp orange which also adorns the Ivory Coast's national flag, a banner can be seen hanging from an upper tier of the Stamford Bridge stands on matchdays. In black letters, it simply reads: Drogba Legend.
Eight years. 341 appearances. 157 goals. 10 major trophies.
At his immense peak at Chelsea, Didier Drogba was an unstoppable force of nature; a broad-shouldered beast of a striker of stalking strength, skill, shooting, speed and power.
Drogba already had a fearsome reputation when he moved to London as an early Jose Mourinho signing from Marseille in 2004 for £24million. However, at Chelsea, the Ivorian became a great.
The sight of his pumped chest controlling the ball on the edge of a penalty area before crashing a shot into the back of a goal net became a trademark. It struck terror into Chelsea's opponents.
It should also be remembered Drogba was no saint when in blue. There were red cards, police cautions, f-word rants and diving accusations.
But these were often as a result of the heat of the moment - complete and utter dedication. That, along with the goals, only served to secure Drogba an even deeper place in the hearts of fans.
It was therefore fitting that, when the time came, Drogba would leave Chelsea on the grandest of stages. In May 2012, his final kick for Chelsea secured the 10th of his trophies - the UEFA Champions League.
And it is that which means Wednesday will be an occasion of huge emotion. Drogba will again line-up on the same pitch as a Mourinho Chelsea team but he will be wearing a Galatasaray shirt.
Before what will be a famous reunion in Turkey, we remember Drogba's highs and lows in the Champions League - a competition with which his Chelsea career was synonymously linked.
"That was a season we could have really achieved something big..."
Did it cross the line? Did it not cross the line? It was a time when Chelsea seemed destined to never reach a Champions League final let alone conquer Europe.
In his debut 2004/05 season at Stamford Bridge, Drogba had helped his new club to their first English top-flight title in 50 years but they were still left with a feeling of what might have been at the end of the campaign.
Liverpool went on to famously beat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final with an improbable comeback. But Chelsea, and Mourinho - who won the European Cup the previous season with Porto, were left feeling cheated.
They had been eliminated at Anfield in the semi-finals following a much-contested 1-0 defeat on aggregate courtesy of Luis Garcia's second leg 'ghost goal'.
Following in the wake of his infamous red card for a second booking after planting his studs in the chest of Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes earlier in that season's competition, the much-debated defeat by Liverpool added momentum to what would be Drogba's tumultuous relationship with the Champions League in a Chelsea shirt.
It will be debated forever whether Garcia's poked, close-range half-volley crossed the line or not before William Gallas hooked it away. Drogba, though, has no doubts and describes the loss as one of the low moments of his Chelsea career.
A F***ING DISGRACE
"When it went wrong, the emotions got the better of me..."
Eyes on stalks and arms irate in their gesturing as he raged into a television camera after the final whistle in Chelsea's semi-final defeat by Barcelona in 2009, this was arguably Drogba's most shameful moment in the Champions League.
On a night of recrimination at Stamford Bridge, Andres Iniesta's 93rd minute goal knocked Chelsea out and sparked ugly melees around Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, who, the home side believed, had wrongly failed to award four penalties.
Drogba was particularly incensed at Ovrebo's performance and seethed onto live TV screens around the world: "It is a f***ing disgrace," while being restrained by his team-mates. It was part due to the African's outrage at the perceived injustice, part fuelled by the rivalry with old foes Barcelona, and part again an element of Drogba and Chelsea's inescapable link to the Champions League.
Chelsea were fined £85,000 for the improper conduct of their players and missile throwing of their supporters while Drogba was banned for six European games, two of which were suspended for two years.
"I stepped on his calf but I do not think I deserved this red card..."
This was supposed to be a special night for Drogba on his 250th appearance for Chelsea. But it was Mourinho, by now the manager of Inter Milan, who wrote himself into footballing folklore.
The only impact Drogba left in Chelsea's defeat by Inter in 2010's Champions League last 16 was on the leg of Thiago Motta as he was red carded late on in the second leg at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea crashed out and Mourinho had a famous win over his former club on what had been a night of raw emotion upon his return to West London. Drogba was again left to face accusations of his passion getting the better of him.
He had seemingly been fighting as a one-man army on the night as Chelsea were otherwise outplayed and it was another sense of the Champions League slipping away from one of Europe's most glamorous clubs and a star player.
Chelsea's striker would later say with clear regret: "The most important thing is that we are out of the competition."
PAIN IN THE RAIN
"It is one memory I cannot forget..."
There are unlikely to be many more painful nights in Chelsea's history. Their defeat on penalties by domestic rivals Manchester United in the final of the 2008 Champions League final encapsulates the difference between joy and pain in football.
John Terry sobbing in the turf in Moscow after missing his penalty is perhaps one of the indelible memories of this game as United went on to win the shootout. But the Chelsea captain would not have been taking what was his team's fifth, and potentially winning, penalty had Drogba still be on the field.
Instead, again, Drogba had seen red in the Champions League. Four minutes from the end of extra time, he had been sent off for slapping United centre-back Nemanja Vidic. It made Drogba the second player in history, behind Arsenal's Jens Lehmann, to be sent off in a European Cup final.
It was another example of the cruelties of Champions League fate hitting Drogba, who had hit the post just before extra time.
MIRACLE OF MUNICH
"It is like a movie, like a movie..."
The greatest night in the history of Chelsea football club. As Drogba himself described, the penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich in the 2012 Champions League final in the German club's own Allianz Arena was scripted as if it was a work of fiction.
In what would be his last match for Chelsea, Drogba had already rescued Roberto Di Matteo's team from the jaws of defeat with an 88th minute header to cancel out Thomas Muller's goal just five minutes earlier. That atoned for the striker having also previously fouled Franck Ribery to give Bayern a penalty, which Petr Cech saved from Arjen Robben.
Then, with a tired and drained Chelsea having gone through extra time to reach the decisive shootout, Drogba would etch himself forever as an icon. Unlike in Moscow four years earlier, he was still on the field and available to take his club's fifth penalty in the shootout.
Such pressure and responsibility has caused many other men to crumble on that lonely path from the half-way line to the spot 12 yards from goal. But Drogba later said: "I just had to go and score and that would be it. I knew. I had a good feeling, a good feeling walking up to the ball."
His penalty was perfection. Chelsea were champions of Europe for the first time in their history. Roman Abramovich had his Holy Grail. Drogba left as a king.