Home and Away: Didier Drogba - part one
feature Wed 27 Sep 2017
In the first of a two-part interview with Didier Drogba about standout Champions League memories and atmospheres, the focus is on games the Chelsea legend played for us in that competition away from Stamford Bridge, ahead of our first trip abroad this season…
Atletico Madrid’s supporters are one group of many around Europe to have seen Didier Drogba terrorise their team’s defence on home soil. It was the Ivorian who struck a brace at the Vicente Calderon in 2009, and indeed from his very first away Champions League game in Chelsea colours, against Paris Saint-Germain in 2004, to his last, over 11 years later, when he netted in a big win at Schalke, Drogba was often unplayable. No player has scored more goals away from home in Europe for us than him.
Seventeen, if you include that legendary header on ‘neutral’ territory in Munich in 2012. That night, the greatest in our history, unsurprisingly crops up when we sit down with Drogba in the West Stand at Stamford Bridge, where the Ivorian recently returned as a guest of Nike’s. But it is at the start of his Champions League adventure with the Blues, away to PSG, that we begin. It was a fixture that meant more to him than most.
‘I used to play for Marseille and the rivalry is beyond what you could think,’ Drogba tells the official Chelsea website.
‘The atmosphere was hostile towards me. During the warm-up they were shouting obscenities. I knew that I was going to score, I knew it, so when I scored I said, ‘Come on Marseille, come on Marseille!’ and they went mad. It was nice, a good feeling. Scoring two in Paris, they lost. I was very, very happy.’
The 3-0 victory set the tone for a convincing group stage showing and, at its end, first place for Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. The last 16 draw paired us with an opponent that would soon become oh so familiar: Barcelona. A very modern European rivalry was born.
‘The Nou Camp is a stadium that was good to us in general,’ Drogba remembers.
‘We only lost once, we always scored and the only game we didn’t it was 0-0 under Guus Hiddink. The atmosphere is nice and it was always good to play there. We were so far from our fans there. It was like you were alone in front of 90,000 people.
‘You had to survive, and we survived that night. The celebrations were good even if we were far from the fans. I went to show them the appreciation because they travelled a long way and went to support us.’
We ask what other European away games or venues stand out.
‘Liverpool,’ Drogba responds immediately. ‘I really enjoyed going there and playing there. We played them in the Champions League so many times.
‘You knew that it was going to be tough, a big game, a difficult game. They were never games you won or lost three or four nil, it was always tight, sometimes they won without goals…they were really good battles. Anfield is definitely one of the best stadiums to play at.’
Drogba names the evening he returned to Marseille in December 2010 as one of the hardest of his career because of his affection for the club for whom he performed so impressively in 2003/04, which helped earn him a move to Chelsea.
His hat-trick against Levski Sofia in Bulgaria, the first of his Blues career, is an altogether happier memory for Drogba, who oozed confidence and big goals during the 2006/07 campaign. He reveals he felt like he was always going to score when he took to the pitch around that time.
Historically, the statistics show teams’ record away from home in Europe compares less favourably with how they do in domestic away matches, with extra travel and consistently better opposition usually cited as the main reasons why. What does Drogba remember of our approach in European away fixtures?
‘When you are a team like we were with so many big players, even playing away in the Champions League you had to win. A draw would be a bad result in the group stage. Lampard, Terry, Petr Cech, Ballack, Essien, Kalou, Malouda, all these guys. To draw away was a bad game. You couldn’t drop the standard. Every time you had to prove you were the best, and that was the mentality we had. We lost some points in away games but not many.
‘It was nice to see them travelling,’ Drogba adds of the fans who follow the Blues abroad.
‘We had some nights where we came back at 2am. We would see them at the airport taking off at the same time as us, and it was good to see them and to speak with them sometimes. When we were down they would be like, “It’s okay, Saturday is another game”, and when we came back to the Bridge we would win for them.’
After coming so close so often, 2012 would finally prove to be our year in the Champions League. It was no surprise Drogba was at the centre of things throughout the final against Bayern Munich, and it was his kick that sent the 25,000 Chelsea fans inside the Allianz Arena and many millions watching on television around the world delirious.
‘I went to give them the cup but I didn’t know if I would get it back!’ Drogba laughs of a moment he shared with the supporters during the lengthy post-match celebrations.
‘Just before kick-off, when we came up the stairs and entered the stadium, we could see red in front of us and Bayern Munich fans to the right of us. As we walked and turned we could see blue behind the other goal, and we said, “We are not alone”.
‘We were playing in their city, their stadium, their home, and we had to do something special there. Again, adversity. We said, “Today we are not losing”, but when they scored seven minutes before the end…”Oh, maybe we will!”
‘But after, when I walked towards the goal to take the penalty, I knew we had won. Petr Cech had saved three penalties in total. The job had already been done.’