Wednesday will be the rehearsal, if you like, for Didier Drogba. Emotions will inevitably be stirred when the Chelsea legend meets his old club in the Champions League, wearing the red and yellow of Galatasaray.
The Turkish SuperLig champions’ Turk Telekom Arena may be amongst the most cacophonous sports venues on the planet (see this Bleacher Report guide by Karla Villegas Gama), but it is the second leg that will stir most appetites.
Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge for the first Premier League game of the season against Hull City was really something. Drogba’s, on March 18, promises to be even more spectacular.
Drogba was the man voted Chelsea’s greatest-ever player by their fans in October 2012, as noted here by the Mirror’s Mike Walters.
The stats are impressive enough, with his 157 goals for the Blues in eight seasons helping to yield three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and the Champions League title he secured with the penalty shoot-out winner against Bayern Munich—his last kick of a ball for Chelsea.
That fateful kick in Munich may represent the pinnacle, as well as the denouement, of his time at Stamford Bridge, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of his achievements. There was always something more about Drogba than just the goals. It was his demeanour, his personality, his leadership.
It has been the same everywhere he’s been.
The impression that Drogba left in just a single season at Olympique de Marseille is such that his shirt hangs in the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur, the magnificent Roman-Byzantine church that towers above central Marseille. In the tributes corner of the cathedral, Drogba’s OM No. 11 top is framed next to the military tunic of General Joseph de Goislard de Monsabert, who led the resistance forces which finally freed the city of Marseille from Nazi occupation in 1944.
It is often forgotten that he was initially reluctant to join Chelsea. "I remember when he got the phone call," his former Marseille teammate Habib Beye told me in 2010. "He didn't want to go."
Drogba scored just 22 Premier League goals in his first two seasons at the club combined. That he stuck with it, and forged such a positive reputation at the club, is testament to his persistence and fortitude.
Galatasaray fans quickly took him to their hearts. He was, of course, a global superstar already, but the love for the Ivorian in the red-yellow half of Istanbul has been enduring, simply because his commitment has been plain to see.
When Cimbom celebrated their SuperLig title after the final home game of last season against Trabzonspor, Drogba was as involved in the festivities as anyone. This wasn’t a tourist simply topping up his pension pot. You’d have thought he’d been there for four years, rather than just four months.
Drogba is the X-factor that gives Galatasaray, who have been inconsistent this season, hope ahead of an uphill task against Chelsea. He has moved mountains on and off the pitch before.
There’s an extraordinary moment in the 2007 documentary on Drogba, L’Incroyable Destin (in French). The Ivory Coast players are celebrating their qualification for the 2006 World Cup (at 1:44), when Drogba hushes them and begins to address the camera, broaching the subject of the civil war that then ravaged the country.
Fellow Ivorians, from north to south and east to west. We’ve shown you today that all the population of the Ivory Coast can live together, and play together for the same aim. Today, we’re on our knees to ask you. Please, put down your weapons. Organise elections, and everything will be better.
When the Treaty of Ouagadougou was signed in March 2007, to pave the way to the country’s reunification, Drogba was invited to the ceremony.
In this context, it’s easy to see why Drogba was calm as he faced Manuel Neuer that night in Munich, as Blue hearts beat hard inside the Allianz Arena and all around the world.
It also tells us that Drogba will have the nerve to take the game to Chelsea this Wednesday and in the second leg, whatever the strength of his history with the club and Mourinho.
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