Didier Drogba was undisputedly amongst the greatest strikers of his generation. His game was flawless, his finishing was ruthless and his winning mentality was unrivalled.
On 19 May 2012, Drogba rescued Chelsea from the brink of defeat with an emphatic darting header beyond Manuel Neuer. Bayern Munich inadvertently descended into a state of depression but Drogba jeopardized his heroic reputation by clumsily fouling Franck Ribery inside the penalty area.
Bayern Munich had the opportunity to overwrite their demoralizing defeat to Internazionale in 2010 from the penalty spot. Drogba’s final acts at Chelsea could’ve been reflected upon as delinquent, but Petr Cech intensified the drama inside a restless Allianz Arena by thwarting Arjen Robben from twelve yards.
It had been an intriguing, captivating and dramatic 120 minutes of action in Munich, but penalties were required to decide both teams fate. Victory was seemingly heading in the direction of the German titans when Manuel Neuer converted their third spot-kick to set the score at 3-2.
The tide precipitously changed when Ivica Olic and Bastian Schweinsteiger misfired under the scrutinizing pressure. Gary Neville set the scene beautifully with his iconic “It’s written in the stars” punch-line seemingly reverberating in each moment Drogba stomped towards the penalty area.
Inside and outside the arena, the anticipation was palpable and any individual could be forgiven for collapsing at the prospect of becoming an immortal or being remembered as the villain in a Champions League final.
A disconcerting silence loomed over the Allianz Arena, but Drogba remained characteristically composed to settle the affair. The satisfying ripple of the net was ensued by euphoric celebrations and scenes of disbelief.
Drogba admitted that his Chelsea career would’ve been “unfulfilled” had he never won the Champions League and his dream was transformed into a reality on that famous night in Munich with the Ivorian playing the starring role.
The Story of a Late Bloomer
Drogba relocated to France to live with his uncle at five years of age and spent the majority of his childhood outside his native Ivory Coast. His parents subsequently settled in the Parisian suburbs of Antony when Drogba was 15 and this marked the beginning of his rise from a mystified teenager to an immortal.
Semi-professional club Levallois offered him his first taste of competitive football and he instantaneously forged a colossal reputation for his goal scoring record. However, Drogba was unable to make an impact when introduced into the senior team.
He studied accountancy at university and became an apprentice at Ligue 2 club Le Mans in the faintest hope of forging a professional football career. It was difficult for him to maintain his fitness and train on a daily basis due to his lack of experience having not ever attended a football academy.
Le Mans persisted with the Ivorian and Drogba became a father to his first child at 21 years old. He believed fatherhood inspired him to seize his opportunity and Drogba struck a chord with supporters by scoring seven goals in 32 appearances during his debut season.
Injuries halted his progress during his second campaign, but Drogba returned during the 2001/02 season to match his tally from two seasons ago with another seven goals. His heroics at Le Mans attracted the interest of French Ligue 1 club Guingamp, who sealed a transfer for £80,000 in January 2002.
It took him time to adjust to his new environment and vastly more competitive opposition in Ligue 1. He scored just three goals in twelve appearances during the second half of the season and supporters and coaches were apprehensive about their new unproven forward.
Guingamp persevered with Drogba during the 2002/03 season and were duly rewarded for their loyalty and trust. Drogba scored a staggering 21 goals in all competitions and announced himself on the main stage in France.
The Rise to Prosperity
His heroics at Guingamp sparked interest from a number of high-profile clubs across Europe and Guingamp sacrificed their most prized player for a fee of £3.3 million. Olympique Marseille boasted an exceptional squad with players such as Fabien Barthez, Mathieu Flamini and Mido. Drogba filled the missing piece of the jigsaw and translated his prolific form from Guingamp onto the European stage at Marseille.
Not only did Drogba convert 19 times in the French Ligue 1, but he also bagged eleven goals in Europe. Marseille suffered elimination in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League, but Drogba found the net on five occasions, and his decisive impact propelled them into the UEFA Cup final.
Marseille progressed to the Round of 16 with Drogba sealing victory from twelve yards against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. He continued to propel Marseille to new heights by finding a valuable equalizer to record a draw against Liverpool at Anfield and sparked a famous comeback in the reverse fixture with yet another goal.
Drogba scored three goals in the next two rounds against Internazionale (1) and Newcastle United (2) respectively. Sadly, Drogba was unable to cap a ground-breaking season with silverware, after Valencia spoilt the party with victory in Sweden, but little did he know that greater things lied ahead of him elsewhere.
Jose Mourinho had just won the UEFA Champions League with FC Porto and was appointed manager of Chelsea Football Club ahead of the 2004/05 season. The Blues had just been taken over by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and had ambitions of contesting for both the Premier League and UEFA Champions League.
The Ivorian was intrigued by their vision and departed Olympique Marseille after just one season for a substantial fee of £24 million. His decision was justified when Chelsea sealed the domestic double at the end of his debut season at Stamford Bridge. Drogba scored 16 goals in all competitions, including an extra-time strike against Liverpool in the League Cup final at the Millennium Stadium.
He was forging a stellar career for himself and replicated his form during his second season by converting another sixteen goals. Chelsea dominated proceedings in England once again to become just the second club to win successive Premier League titles.
Chelsea experienced a regressive period during the 2006/07 season, but Drogba enjoyed his second-most prolific goal scoring season. He won the first of two Premier League Golden Boot awards with a staggering 20 goals and added another 13 in other competitions to take his grand total to 33 goals.
Manchester United regained the Premier League title after a three year hiatus but Chelsea had the prime opportunity to seek redemption in the 2007 FA Cup final. The score remained goalless after 90 minutes but with penalties beckoning, Drogba skipped between Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to delicately lift the ball beyond the haplessly emerging Edwin Van Der Sar.
He was voted Chelsea Players’ Player of the Year and was also included in the FIFA World XI. But the 2007/08 started in horrendous fashion for Drogba, especially after the shock departure of Jose Mourinho.
Drogba indicated to the media that he was unhappy with life at Chelsea and suggested the potentiality of a transfer elsewhere. Fortunately, he later pledged his loyalty to the club and went onto play a crucial role for them in the climactic stages of the season, despite injuries.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez criticized Drogba for his “diving antics,” but the Ivorian responded by scoring two goals to eliminate Liverpool from Europe and send Chelsea into their first ever Champions League final.
Sadly, Drogba was unable to prevent Manchester United from clinching a third European crown, after being sent off for slapping Nemanja Vidic in the 117th minute. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Drogba and he continued to regress during the 2008/09 due to incessant injury issues.
Scolari also preferred to play French striker Nicolas Anelka for a brief period and Drogba found it difficult to regain his place in the starting line-up. Guus Hiddink succeeded the Portuguese coach in February 2009 and immediately restored the Ivorian into the starting line-up.
Chelsea failed to reach the UEFA Champions League final for a second successive season, after a controversial defeat at the hands of FC Barcelona over two legs. Numerous decisions went against The Blues and Drogba expressed his anger with a few explicit words into the television camera.
UEFA handed him a six-match ban from European competition, although this ban was later reduced. He remained prolific on the domestic stage and scored once again in the FA Cup final as Chelsea went onto defeat Everton and secure their fourth domestic cup four years.
Sealing his Legacy