WORDS WITH: DIDIER DROGBA
Didier Drogba turns 34 this coming weekend. There is surely nothing our long-serving striker would want more to celebrate his birthday than three points against Stoke, maybe a goal or two to his name, plus significantly adding to the combined £800,000 raised at the two previous charity balls held in aid of his Foundation.
Last Friday he spoke to the official Chelsea website about this Saturday evening's event at the Dorchester Hotel on London's Park Lane, and today he explains further the work of the Didier Drogba Foundation, as well as expressing his pride in passing 150 goals for Chelsea, a feat that moved him up into very exclusive company when looking at the club's history.
Drogba is now on 151 goals scored having headed into the Bolton Wanderers net in the most recent game at Stamford Bridge. His 150 was reached in his final match before departing for the Africa Cup of Nations at the turn of the year.
There he came so close to helping Ivory Coast to triumph in their continental championship, defeated in the final by Zambia after a penalty shoot-out. He missed badly from the spot during the normal 90 minutes but had done much to make sure his nation got that far in the first place with three goals scored.
Instead Drogba is now aiming to bring tangible improvement to the lives of people in his birth city of Abidjan by building a hospital. And that is what his Foundation and its fundraising annual event are mostly about.
'We couldn't start the building construction because of the civil war in the country and then with the elections after,' Drogba reports.
'So that has lasted six months and we couldn't do anything really, so that is why we are coming to this third year and there is nothing that comes out of the ground yet. But now that the situation is much better we are going to start building in the next few months.
'We are going to employ a company who is going to build the hospital and we are going to do something really simple but efficient, where people will be able to get treatment they need.
'In Ivory Coast people have to find money to pay for healthcare and what we are trying to do is to build the hospital and try to reduce the cost of the medicine. Then people can afford it and that is also why we need to collect the maximum amount of money we can every year.'
As recently as January Drogba's nation had to scale down an initiative to bring free healthcare to all after just nine months as it proved unaffordable. Now only mothers and young children benefit. Drogba's project has potential to make a significant contribution.
'When you look at the power we have here, and the desire that people have to help, they can make a difference because they can save some lives. They can help people going to school, they can help people be in good health so they can go to work and have a job, it is very important.'
The next step after the hospital will be to build some schools, with his Foundation also contributing to organisations helping those struck by natural disasters in west Africa, plus other projects such as the supply of malaria nets.
Nets of another kind, more specifically those at either end of a football pitch, remain the focus of Drogba's professional life. Departing for the Cup of Nations immediately after the New Year's Eve match at home to Aston Villa meant he didn't have chance at the time to talk about scoring his 150th goal that day. He takes the opportunity to do so now.
The 150th goal was a penalty, scored from the Shed End spot under which Osgood's ashes are buried. It was an apposite way to reach that particular milestone but unfortunately Drogba's celebration acknowledging the 'King' was misinterpreted by sections of the media as some sort of goodbye to the fans with the transfer window about to open. It is pretty clear they were wrong.
Drogba nods, aware of the confused reporting.
'That was for Peter Osgood because he is a legend here. I didn't know about him before I came here but when I came I really wanted to know who were the important people and what did they bring to the club in terms of relationship with the fans.
'He is the one I really wanted to copy a little bit because he was tall and I really like the way he was scoring his goals, so I really wanted to be like him.
'It is a good and important feeling to become one of the top four goalscorers for Chelsea. It means a lot to me because over the last eight years here we have had a lot of great strikers and I managed to keep my place and put my name on the Chelsea board.
'From the first day I came I said I wanted to be part of the Chelsea history and I think I am on the right way. I am very happy because it wasn't easy for me to change from the French culture to the English one and adapt to the Premier League, but I am very proud because I managed to do it with the support of my team mates and the fans. So I am really happy but I am not going to stop there!'
New targets keep appearing. Saturday's charity ball could double up as lavish celebration for his birthday on Sunday, but by then Drogba will be looking ahead.
'We can't party because we have a big game coming up next week. The best week for me will be to win on Saturday, raise a lot of money on Saturday night and then next week to win our game too,' he confirms.
Click for information about attending the Drogba Charity Ball on Saturday.