Keeping lead role the aim for Drogba
ONE BY ONE, he has seen them all off -- the men who tried to take his place -- and Didier Drogba, the centre-forward with the boxer's build, is still planning to be Chelsea's last man standing.
Premier League footballers are always talked about in terms of their earnings and yet they have the same fear of redundancy as any other worker.
Drogba will not be on family tax credits if Daniel Sturridge, Fernando Torres or Romelu Lukaku finally push him aside. But something inside will go and in its place will come the realisation that his career is sliding away. And at 33, the light goes quickly.
As Andre Villas-Boas conceded when asked whether he intended to sign Lukaku (who outwardly seems very much like a teenage Drogba) from Anderlecht, the Chelsea manager said he had enough strikers already.
And Drogba is the oldest, although typically his most pressing concern is earning a fresh contract at Stamford Bridge.
"Of course, why not?" he said. "We have started talking (about a new deal) and it is very interesting. Everybody knows how I feel about Chelsea and what I want. That is the most important thing.
"I need to keep playing well and give my best like I always do. This is my eighth season now and it means a lot for any striker to stay that long at Chelsea."
When he arrived at Stamford Bridge in the same summer that saw the coming of Jose Mourinho, Drogba's competition included Adrian Mutu and Eidur Gudjohnsen.
The Icelander proved the fiercer threat to his place in Mourinho's starting line-up. For Mutu and Hernan Crespo (who was immediately loaned out) the arrival of Drogba from Marseilles, where he had destroyed Newcastle's defence in a UEFA Cup semi-final, was the signal for them to leave London.
"I am not going to play until I am 80 years old and so I know there will come a time when a younger player will come and take my place," said Drogba. "That is how I came to be here. I was young and I took somebody's place but that is football and that is life.
"I am 33 now. I am the oldest player at Chelsea (the same age as the manager). It feels strange but I am not worried. If I deserve to play, then I will. If I am no good, then I won't.
"It has been like this for me all the years I have been at Chelsea. It was the same when Eidur Gudjohnsen was here; when Sheva (Andrei Shevchenko) was here.
"It is nothing new and it is good for the team to have some competition. It will push the team forward and get the best out of us."
And yet, when he was asked if he welcomed competition, Drogba replied, "yes and no."
Shevchenko is the closest parallel to Torres, although you will have to wait another 18 months to see if the comparison really dovetails. Chelsea supporters were informed by the club that it was only a matter of time before the great Ukrainian broke through. They are hearing the same now with Torres.
Drogba outlasted Shevchenko and it is not impossible he will outlast Torres at Stamford Bridge.
Curiously, for a manager who has explored football's tactical permutations since he was a teenager, Villas-Boas has not paired Drogba and Torres together in pre-season, although tomorrow's game against a Thailand XI gives the Chelsea manager another opportunity. Drogba is not concerned.
"We know he is a fan of 4-3-3," he said of his manager. "So nothing is going to change for us; we have been playing that way for years. He is the sort of manager who can adapt."
As for Torres, the man whose arrival from Liverpool should have struck the same kind of chill as the sight of Drogba limbering up in training for the first time must have instilled in Crespo and Mutu, he said: "Torres is not a problem. It is not a problem if I play with him or without him, the most important thing is winning games as a team."
And then there is the question of winning the European Cup, something Villas-Boas said must happen for Chelsea sooner or later.
From Drogba, whose image as the heartbeat of Chelsea ensured a rapt reception from 84,980 who jammed the Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur to see him contribute to the only goal against Malaysia, you might expect some grand statement of intent.
Instead, all he will say on the subject of Chelsea's great obsession is: "Only God can decide that." (© Independent News Service)