Friday 24 March 2017

Forward-thinking Ancelotti says age no barrier for Drogba

Jason Burt

Having flirted with moves for Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney in the last few months, Carlo Ancelotti yesterday repeated his belief that Didier Drogba can "stay at the top level for years".

However the Chelsea manager conceded that with Drogba 33 next March and Nicolas Anelka 31, he is over-reliant on strikers heading towards the end of their careers.

"I agree (they're old)," Ancelotti said. "Drogba is 33 (sic), and Anelka 31, but (Daniel) Sturridge is 21, (Gael) Kakuta is 19. We have a good mix now. We have some young players who are improving and, in future, maybe we can use them.

"I said a lot of times, (Filippo) Inzaghi scored two goals in the final of the Champions League and is now 37. In 2007, he was 35. Drogba (pictured below) still has time to score two goals in the Champions League final."

That competition remains the Holy Grail for Chelsea, of course, although there is also a determination to retain the Premier League title.

Drogba returns today, after illness, to face Wolves, with Jose Bosingwa starting his first match for a year, having been ruled out because of a knee injury.

There is also hope that Frank Lampard will return to train with the rest of the squad by the end of next week, following his groin operation.

"Lampard is a big miss for us," said Ancelotti, with Chelsea now hoping the midfielder may be a substitute against Blackburn next Saturday.

Drogba's fitness remains the key. Ancelotti, from his time at AC Milan -- and its famous lab -- has a long history of prolonging the careers of older players and the manager offered an insight into his striker and his own approach.

"He's a player with strong personality," Ancelotti said. "He's efficient -- he scored a lot of goals last year -- but he's focused and knows very well that he's one of the most important players in this team."

Ancelotti brushed aside claims that Drogba can be temperamental, although he conceded he had to be carefully managed.

"He has particular skills, physically, and obviously he didn't like to train where he's not the best," he said. "For example, if he needs to run he doesn't like to run because he's not a resistant player. But now, with individual training sessions, we have to improve his strength, skill and speed. He likes to do that."

Leeway

Is Drogba, therefore, given leeway? "The ability of the manager is not to close the personality of the player," Ancelotti explained. "He has to show his personality, if always with respect of the team-mates, the club and the manager.

"My experience helps, yes. For this reason, to have a good relationship with a player is the most important thing."

That is clearly one of Ancelotti's greatest skills.

Drogba signed a new three-year deal at Chelsea last year and his stock remains high. But it's undoubtedly true that Chelsea are on the look-out for high-calibre replacements -- additions for now -- to bolster their forward line. Hence the interest in Torres and Rooney and -- before that -- Neymar and Sergio Aguero.

That search will continue, especially as Sturridge and Kakuta and Fabio Borini -- who scored five times for the reserves in midweek -- are still so young. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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