Inside Blue Thu 16 Nov 2017
Chelsea legend Didier Drogba has announced next year will likely be his last as a player, making it the perfect time to look back at some of his greatest moments.
The Ivorian striker spent a total of nine campaigns at Stamford Bridge, split across two spells with the club, becoming a symbol of the most successful period in Blues history.
Now a player and owner of Phoenix Rising in the USA, Drogba will finally hang up his boots at the end of their 2018 campaign, by which time he will be 40 years of age.
'I think next year will be my last season,' he said. 'At some point, you have to stop. I need to have time for my other projects. It's good to play, but at 39, it holds me back a bit.'
While that may mean an end to the imposing sight of him bullying defences and scoring astounding goals, he has already left plenty of those memories for us to enjoy, especially with Chelsea. Here are a few of his most iconic in a Blues shirt...
2005 League Cup final
In his first season at Stamford Bridge after joining from Marseille, Drogba was yet to build his reputation as a big-game player for the Blues, but started doing so as early as February, when we took on Liverpool in the League Cup final looking to lift our first trophy under the ownership of Roman Abramovich. A two-month injury absence and strong competition for a place in the team as our leading striker meant he wasn't a guaranteed starter at the Millennium Stadium, but Jose Mourinho opted for his power in attack and Drogba didn't disappoint. With the scores level going into the second period of extra-time and penalties looking on the cards, it was our then number 15 who made the difference, scoring a poacher's effort after a Glen Johnson throw in to put us ahead. It was a lead we wouldn't relinquish, Mateja Kezman also on target in our 3-2 win. It would prove to be the first of many cup final goals for Drogba.
2007 FA Cup final
If there were any remaining doubts that Drogba was the man for the big occasion, the 2006/07 season banished them for good. We played in two cup finals during that campaign, winning them both, with all three of our goals across the two matches scored by our star striker. Having already seen off Arsenal with a brace in the first of those, it was the turn of Manchester United to fall by his sword in the FA Cup. The first final at the new Wembley Stadium wasn't always the prettiest or most exciting, remaining 0-0 until the 116th minute, when Drogba made sure it at least had some late drama as he poked the ball past Edwin van der Sar for the only goal of the game, four minutes from the end of extra-time. As well as sealing his status as a Chelsea hero, it also made sure he would go down in the record books as the scorer of the first competitive goal in the newly rebuilt national stadium.
Having been closely matched by Manchester United throughout the closing stages of the 2009/10 season, we went into the final game against Wigan Athletic at Stamford Bridge knowing a win would be enough to seal the title. He was far from the only man wearing blue that day to put in a stellar performance worthy of a champion, as we emphatically thrashed the Latics 8-0 to leave no room for doubt, but his hat-trick is worth singling out as an example of why he was so important to us during that campaign. It also showed how hungry he was for success, being determined to score as many as possible to ensure he would also finish ahead of Wayne Rooney as the Premier League's top scorer and claim a second Golden Boot. The icing on the cake came a week later, when he scored the only goal in the FA Cup final at Wembley again to defeat Portsmouth and win Chelsea's first-ever Double.
2012 Champions League final
No list of great Drogba moments could be complete without including our first Champions League triumph in 2012, and there were a few games during that run to Munich which would also be deserving of a spot. However, it is the final itself which will forever be synonymous with our legendary number 11. It's fair to say we were underdogs as we took on Bayern in their own stadium, but the same could be said about the semi-final against Barcelona when Drogba and others forced our way past the opposition seemingly by pure force of will. The Ivorian showed the same attributes to save the Blues from the jaws of defeat, when he headed in an equaliser from Juan Mata's corner with only two minutes left. As the game went to a penalty shootout there was only one man who was ever going to be taking our last effort, and of course Drogba it was who stepped up to calmly send Manuel Neuer the wrong way and win the trophy for Chelsea, before his composure completely deserted him during the passionate and tearful celebrations which followed, letting everyone know just how much it meant to him. The world soon learned why, as he announced that it would be his last game for the club...
2015 Premier League title
...Or so we all thought. However, with the Blues short on attacking depth, it was the old hero that Jose Mourinho turned to in 2014/15, persuading the veteran to return for one more season at Stamford Bridge. Although it didn't seem like Drogba needed much persuasion, saying: 'It was an easy decision. Everyone knows the special relationship I have with this club and it has always felt like home to me'. He may not have been a regular starter, with the younger Diego Costa also at the club, but he performed admirably whenever called upon and provided the squad with some vital experience and passion in the dressing room, playing an even bigger role off the pitch as on it, as he claimed his fourth Premier League winner's medal. The admiration felt for Drogba by all the Bridge was summed perfectly on the last day of the season when, with the title already in the bag, he was handed the captain's armband for his final appearance and brought the match to a standstill, as he was chaired off the pitch by his team-mates to a rapturous ovation from the stands after 30 minutes.