Sport Soccer

Sunday 25 March 2018

No sting in the tail from Drogba as he receives the full testimonial treatment

Galatasaray's Didier Drogba acknowledges the fans at Stamford Bridge
Galatasaray's Didier Drogba acknowledges the fans at Stamford Bridge

Paul Hayward

A silver boot presentation, an interview in the matchday programme and a eulogy from Jose Mourinho: Chelsea hit Didier Drogba with a pre-emptive guilt trip that might have been intended to say: you dare not score against us, your brothers, your past and future colleagues.

The power, the glory, the gamesmanship. Drogba is still synonymous with the Roman Abramovich era at Chelsea, who tried to smother him with kindness on a night when Mourinho's men picked up the Champions League torch dropped by Arsenal and Manchester City.

The first blow was struck not by the prodigal hero of the 2012 Champions League final but another African striker, Samuel Eto'o, who is 33 to Drogba's 36.

Only these two, from that continent, have scored 30 times in

Champions League action, and their presence here said many things. First, Chelsea cannot rely on Fernando Torres in the biggest games. Eto'o is an old Mourinho ally and a Cameroonian aristocrat whose prominence in this Chelsea squad points to failures in the recruitment strategy across the forward areas.

The hat needed raising, though, to both these ageing goal-hunters, who are still in the big time. But only Drogba received the full testimonial treatment, with Mourinho practically offering him a job on the eve of this second leg.

"As a player, as a coach, as an ambassador, next year, in four or five years, or 10 years, I don't know," the Chelsea manager said, keeping it nice and loose.

"But when a person represents so much to a club and the club represents so much to a person, as is the case, I think he has to be welcomed back.

"We know he's a free agent and finishes his contract at the end of the season, but I don't think it's the right moment to think about it ahead of a big game. Undoubtedly, he's one of the most important players in the history of this club."

A cynic would think Mourinho was trying to stir Drogba's emotions with a giant love spoon.

"I don't think it's the right moment," was a particularly hilarious caveat, given that Mourino had just chosen this "moment" to discuss it. Was the aim to render the old hero incapable of hurting the west London congregation he lifted to nirvana with his winning penalty against Bayern Munich? Those suspicions deepened when the programme dropped with an interview with Drogba and a homage from John Terry.

First Drogba recalled a crazy night in Munich. "Even in 10 years' time, I will still feel the same. It was just an amazing feeling – and to be part of this team, reaching the final the way we did," he said.

"All the campaign was epic, with the wins over Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona and winning the final with the last penalty against Bayern Munich in their stadium was the best feeling I think I will ever have on the football pitch."

In his captain's notes, Terry wrote: "I also have to dedicate this page to Dids, for what he achieved as a Chelsea player as well as the person he is, the character he is and the winning mentality he brought to the dressing-room here. He is a proper Chelsea legend and tonight he will get to see how much he meant to this football club by the response the fans will give him."

That responsecame in spades – songs, applause and a pictorial banner that was inscribed: "Always in our hearts."

Galataasary's followers retaliated with cards that read: "We have Drogba – You Don't."

With time, and the agonies endured by Torres, Drogba's stature has only increased in these parts. But for the most part he looked player off a history page as Chelsea eased to a 2-0 lead at the interval, with Gary Cahill driving his boot through the ball from close range. By then, the Drogba comeback gala was fading fast.

It would be fanciful to imagine him returning as Chelsea's new rapier next season. There will be a new centre-forward at Stamford Bridge, but he will probably be from the £40m-£50m bracket, not the club's own hall of fame.

Eto'o has scored all his 10 goals for Chelsea on home turf. Demba Ba is no more than a fall-back. And Torres remains a monument to Abramovich's desire to play fantasy football manager (an urge Mourinho will hope to curb).

There was even a peck on the cheek for Mourinho from Drogba before the kick-off. Not until the second-half did a Chelsea player treat 'The Drog' roughly. Branislav Ivanovic earned a bookng for slamming into him from behind.

By now it was strictly business as Chelsea closed in a Champions League place. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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