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Didier Drogba: 'If Jose asks me to come back I will think about it'

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Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho shares a joke with striker Didier Drogba in 2007

Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho shares a joke with striker Didier Drogba in 2007

Stu Forster/Getty Images

Chelsea Coach Jose Mourinho shares a joke with striker Didier Drogba in 2007

Didier Drogba has thought about the possibility. It would be odd if he had not. You do not sustain yourself as great goalscorer over a decade and a half in the game's top echelons without visualising the next impeccable finish, picturing all its details.

But were Drogba to register a goal against the club who have had most impact on his life, he feels unsure how he would react immediately afterwards. To party or to act pious?

There would be loyalties to honour, two large fanbases to respect. But he would not be the Didier Drogba, king of Atlantic-coast Africa, former monarch of west London, without his sense of theatre, not just scorer of great goals, but patentor of memorable celebrations.

So, if Drogba scores for Galatasaray tomorrow night, or in two weeks' time in the second leg of a resonant Champions League tie, how will he follow up? "No celebration," is his initial response, but straight away he smiles knowingly. "Well, okay, maybe my signature one." At which point he gestures with his shoulders, evoking that special jive, the ecstatic routine he has used countless times.

Drogba turns 36 next month, and finds himself again the spearhead of an ambitious team preparing for the knockout phase of club football's most illustrious competition. Eight years running he confronted this stage of the Champions League with Chelsea; this is the second season in succession he has done so with Galatasaray. In May 2012, his adventure in Blue finished, with almost perfect theatre, converting the penalty that won Chelsea their only European Cup, in Munich.

SEQUEL

Then he embarked on the sequel. His return to the Champions League – after a brief, unsatisfactory stint in China – ended in the quarter-finals, Drogba's Galatasaray defeated by Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid. The night that tie concluded, the two men shared a moment of fond reminiscence, in the tunnel.

Drogba had an inkling that, although Mourinho felt positive his Madrid might be bound for European glory – they were not – the manager's return to Chelsea might be imminent. "He was having a difficult moment in Madrid and Chelsea weren't going to keep Rafa Benitez," Drogba remembers. "There was a chance for him to come back. And that's what happened. I wasn't surprised. I'm really happy for him and the club."

Eleven months later, they meet again, more poignantly. Drogba is very happy with his start at Galatasaray but would part of him like to be lining up for, not against, Mourinho's Chelsea tomorrow?

"I can't forget what I've done there. Chelsea will always have a special place in my heart. And in my life."

As will Mourinho. Barely had Istanbul been designated as the venue for Chelsea's last-16 first leg than Drogba's mobile buzzed: A text message from Mourinho. "He said, 'Enjoy. It's your moment, so enjoy it'."

Drogba relates all this from a corner of a sunny Galatasaray training campus, sipping Turkish tea, relaxed, confident of his status at his new club, and candid about the heart-tugs provoked by this game against his old club, versus his favourite manager. "It's nice to play against your old team, but when you are emotional, like me, it's going to be difficult. I have to be professional and respect the shirt I am wearing."

His mind scrolls back for a precedent: to a 2010 meeting between Chelsea and his former club Marseille. "I hope it will be better than that."

Little was at stake in that group phase tie, but an excess of nostalgia visibly hampered Drogba. He loved Marseille.

Mourinho's gift was to persuade him to transfer his affections to London, to make a late developer feel worthy of a big career step-up. As Drogba puts it: "I took a risk to go and play for Jose when I left Marseille. Three years before that I was in the second division. This guy says: 'You are a good player, but if you want to be the best like Thierry Henry you have to come and play for me'."

The upstart salesman, smiles Drogba, had been pitching the line for a while:

"I first saw Jose at a Porto-Marseille game six or seven months before that. In the tunnel, he slapped me on the back and said: 'Do you have some brothers who play like you?' I said: 'There's a lot in Africa who are better than me'."

A bond was formed. Mourinho-Drogba, a strong marriage of striving wannabes, would have its testy moments. The time, for instance, when Mourinho demanded Chelsea's most potent, Premier League-winning striker come clean about his intentions regarding joining AC Milan; the morning Mourinho cleared out his office at Chelsea in 2007, sacked after two Premier League titles in three years.

"We didn't see it coming," Drogba recalls. "Sometimes some players are feeling so good with a manager, with one person, with a relationship, that when that sort of thing happens, you are disappointed. I'm an emotional guy and I was quite disappointed."

Other Chelsea managers came and went – and Drogba had good relationships with them all, although he singles out Guus Hiddink as a particularly positive, progressive influence. Through it all Drogba and Mourinho stayed in touch, the guru supportive in crises, the protege appreciative. When Drogba was banned by Uefa for his angry remonstrations towards referee Tom Henning Ovrebo after a contentious Chelsea-Barcelona semi-final in 2009, Mourinho texted from Italy, humorously: "If you go to jail, I'll send oranges."

As Drogba talks, he makes Mourinho sound quite the father figure.

"People didn't see Chelsea as a family," says Drogba, "where the players are close. But we had something special. You cannot achieve what we did without being together. We had a group of 24, sometimes 26 players, and 20 of them could have been captain of their national team. We had a lot of games behind us, so we worked with Jose to be independent, to be able to read the game, to change a game on our own on the pitch.

"We could sit down together and say: 'Come on, guys. We are responsible. We have to make sure we change this, we have to fight'. We had a lot of clever players. They could understand quickly, take in instructions fast. Within one meeting, or watching one video for 10 minutes, we knew what we had to do."

The students enrolled in Mourinho's second Chelsea reign should cherish that sort of learning, advises Drogba.

"Jose is good at developing people. With a player like Eden Hazard, if he listens to Jose, if he learns what Jose teaches him, he can be really, really good."

IMPROVING

Others are doing that, he reckons. "Look at Cesar Azpilicueta, I knew him from Marseille, as a good player, but now he is a Chelsea regular, improving. Or Gary Cahill: now you can't think about the Chelsea starting XI without him. There's Oscar, Hazard, Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto'o, Ramires. They have a great squad."

Might Chelsea line up even stronger were their epoch-making striker still there? "The ones who are there are doing well. If Jose was saying, 'Didier, I want you to come back' I would think about it. But it's not happening now so there's no need to speak about it."

Come the end of his Galatasaray deal in June, there will be invitations to speak with a number of suitors. Drogba is this year's Champions League Peter Pan, 35 years young, his goals and assists responsible for thrusting Galatasaray this far. It does not feel like a swansong.

"My contract ends this summer. Then I will decide what's best. It's impossible to stop time but it's possible with your intelligence and with your experience to play at a high level even for two or three more years," he says.

High enough for a return to English football as a player? "Put me in the Premier League and give me a few months," he smiles. "I feel young. I still feel like a kid running after the ball."

Put him in the Champions League, and he is the principal threat to Chelsea, if he sets the emotions aside. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent