Petr Cech column: When Didier got going, nobody could stop him

On the day Didier Drogba has been inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame, his longstanding Chelsea team-mate Petr Cech discusses the striker’s impact in English football, analyses his success in big games and explains why their Blues’ careers started on the same path…

I first came across Didier in France when I was at Rennes and he was playing for Guingamp. He was flying, and then he went to Marseille and was top goalscorer in Ligue 1. So when he signed for Chelsea, I knew what a good signing it was.

He was big, he was strong, he was powerful, he could finish every type of ball coming into the box, he could do it himself. He held the ball up, he was dominant in the air. He could take free-kicks. One on one he was good, right foot, left foot. It was perfect. We were getting a really strong player. I knew we had a chance to win something when a player like him was joining.

Similar paths

We arrived at Chelsea the same summer. We were new people. We knew each other because we came from the same league and had played against each other. In France, I had been in the Team of the Year, and he was the top goalscorer. We had a common goal to make our mark again, and to win things. We had the French connection, the language connection. We could help each other. We always got on well because we wanted to do our best to win.

He started slower than some people expected. I think it was the difference between the leagues, because the Premier League was far more physical, and the referees had a different approach to it. You had to find a way to beat your opponents. Some teams at that time were really physical, with bigger, taller players than him. He also injured his groin at the beginning and that held him back a little bit, but the moment he got going, nobody could stop him. The machine started, and it didn’t stop until he retired. We all know how he became a legend in this club, this league, and in world football.

A force for good

People with personality usually show it straight away. That was Didier. He could deal with unpopular things, or when he ran into trouble. You could see his reaction and his commitment. He was not afraid to show his emotions. You need that sometimes on the pitch. Me and Frank didn’t show much emotion, but JT and Didier did. It’s good to have that mix of people in the dressing room. As his role on the pitch got more important, so did his role in the dressing room.

Didier thrived in big games because of his mentality. He loved to be in the spotlight and scoring goals. Some people have doubt under big pressure, but he was the exact opposite. He loved the challenge. He worked every day to have the tools to pull things off.

His work ethic and preparation helped him in those big moments. Didier was a good trainer. He could have a lazy day after a game, he wouldn’t be the freshest, but he always paid attention to his body and his preparation. He worked on his finishing all the time, and his free-kicks. It paid off for him. It was no coincidence he scored so many goals and in such a variety of different ways.

One last dance

It must have been a bit strange for him to leave Chelsea, come back, win the league, and then go again. His second spell was a great experience for him. It was a different role, behind Diego Costa, but he helped the team win the title and left on a high again. He was the same guy, but he knew he was in a different stage of his career. When we needed him, he was ready to help.

I’m happy he got this recognition. He is one of those players who will always be remembered in the Premier League for his commitment and for his passion for the game, for his goals, for his personality. It’s a great achievement and it’s really deserved.

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