Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 February 2018

Mourinho looks to future as Blues bid farewell to legend

Chelsea 3-1 Sunderland

Didier Drogba captained Chelsea in his final game for the club and was later given an unprecedented send-off from his teammates
Didier Drogba captained Chelsea in his final game for the club and was later given an unprecedented send-off from his teammates
John Terry and his Chelsea teammates celebrate with the Premier League trophy
Jose Mourinho holds up his medal after winning the Barclays Premier League
Chelsea's Nemanja Matic challenges Sunderland's Connor Wickham

Jack Pitt-Brooke

This was an all-afternoon party with a football match thrown in, as Chelsea were crowned Premier League champions for the fourth time and gave one of their historic greats an historic send-off.

Chelsea, not that it mattered, beat Sunderland and took a few minutes out of the first half to say goodbye to Didier Drogba.

This was the last hurrah for Drogba, who announced before the game that he is leaving, at 37 years old, to find more first-team football in the final seasons of his career. He started, was captain - the idea of John Terry - and was roared on to the pitch.

Drogba played for 28 uneventful minutes before his choreographed exit, without precedent in modern sport.

When the boards went up, showing Diego Costa was to come on, Drogba embraced his team-mates before they carried him on their shoulders off the pitch. Drogba, from his perch, waved goodbye to the whole stadium, his final farewell.

Mourinho ran his plans by Dick Advocaat beforehand, and was delighted by the send-off his players gave Drogba.

"The players decided between them because they like him a lot," he said, after the game.

"I'm really happy because he was part of the other team, but he belongs also to this new Chelsea."

That, in brief, was the theme of the afternoon, the final handover from the first champion Mourinho team here to the second. Eight members of that first side - Alexei Smertin, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Claude Makelele, William Gallas, Carlo Cudicini and Geremi - were paraded before kick-off, 10 years on from that first title which set up everything that has followed.

Drogba, of course, is not the only constant from that side to this. Petr Cech was also a feature of both, and he too was rewarded with a start and with the adulation of the crowd. His future, though, is less clear.

Cech, like Drogba, wants to play more first-team football and he still has one year left on his contract. Mourinho would love to keep him at Stamford Bridge but admitted it is not entirely in his hands.

"He is a legend of this club," Mourinho said, "and one of our strengths this season was to have the two best goalkeepers in the Premier League. It is no problem to have both. But I am not in control of Petr's decision."

If Cech does leave then there will only be Terry and Mourinho of the 2004-05 team left, and Mourinho spoke quite touchingly about the transition between generations.

"To have the champions of 2005 and the champions of 2015 here is an amazing feeling because I feel as if I belong to both," he said.

"That team of 2005 is over, finished. To be back for the end of that team was hard, but my job is Chelsea's future. It would be a dream to be here in 2025 and be with the champions of 2005, 2015 and 2025."

Who knows what will happen in 10 years' time - Terry may still be playing - but when Mourinho challenged these players to "win on a regular basis", it had an ominous ring.

The match itself was besides the point, Sunderland having banished fears of relegation last Wednesday.

Chelsea were one goal down when Drogba was carried off on the shoulders of his team-mates. Adam Johnson's inswinging corner was headed past Cech at the back post by Steven Fletcher, whose goal was his first for Sunderland since November 3.

But just six minutes after replacing Drogba, Diego Costa netted his 20th league goal of the season from the penalty spot after Juan Cuadrado had been brought down by John O'Shea.

Cuadrado had to be replaced by Loic Remy and the Frenchman netted twice to make sure Chelsea signed off in style.

His first goal came with a shot from the edge of the penalty area, following good work from Hazard, and his late second was from a Nemanja Matic cross.

Dick Advocaat revealed afterwards he will decide next week whether to sign the two-year deal Sunderland have offered to stay in charge. He can leave with his head held high, and he is not the only one.

Independent News Service

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