STAMFORD BRIDGE, LONDON—Chelsea's West London home has been host to many memorable occasions, yet none have quite compared to the emotion that was on show on Tuesday evening.
Chelsea may have come away victorious in their last 16 Champions League tie with Galatasaray, gathering momentum in the competition, but all 38,000 fans crammed inside Stamford Bridge were there for one thing—to give praise to Didier Drogba.
The former Blues striker received a rousing welcome from his former club, his name bellowing from the terraces before kick-off. And at the final whistle, he was gifted a standing ovation from the supporters who still worship him for everything he achieved during his eight years as a Chelsea player.
Indeed, it was a touching moment as Drogba exited the field, the last player to do so having soaked up the praise a man of his stature deserves.
It’s an image he will never forget only, when he looks back across the two legs of this tie, there will be an element of regret that lingers.
This was supposed to be Drogba’s moment, his opportunity to shine under the European spotlight for one last time.
The eyes of the world were watching and waiting in anticipation for him to remind us all of what he is capable of. Instead, it was Fernando Torres and Samuel Eto’o who stole the headlines.
First it was Torres, opening the scores in Istanbul three weeks previous in the first leg, and, on Tuesday, Eto’o seized his opportunity after just four minutes, taking centre stage by firing Chelsea into the lead to tighten their grip on the game.
The goal was Eto’o’s 10th of what is becoming a productive season for the Cameroon international. And remarkably, all of those strikes have come at Stamford Bridge.
Drogba was the main attraction on Tuesday, sure, but it was Eto’o who was having the final word.
In many ways, it was a game that summed up where the two players are right now. While Drogba’s visit to England was laced with sentiment, a reflection on past glories, Eto’o’s display on Tuesday went a long to proving his critics wrong.
He now has a strike rate of one goal in every three appearances for Chelsea, and, for a much-maligned striker, that’s not a bad record to have.
Given his reputation when it comes to the biggest games, Drogba simply didn’t turn up against his former club.
Was it the occasion getting to him, or simply a sign that he can no longer cut it at the highest level? Probably both.
He was disappointing across both legs and, midway through the first half, when a free-kick rocketed way over the bar, it was clear this wasn’t going to be a vintage performance from the player we once knew.
Ironically, the free-kick was so far off target it came closer to hitting a banner draped on the top tier of the Matthew Harding Stand in Drogba’s honor, than it had Petr Cech’s goal.
“Drogba Legend” the fluorescent orange sign read. He will always remain that in these parts, although there are new names making waves these days, of which Eto’o is one.
Say what you will of him, Eto’o’s goals have picked up vital points this term and now they’re helping to set Jose Mourinho and his teammates en route to Lisbon for May’s Champions League final.
It was once Drogba who was feared by many, yet when the quarterfinal draw is made on Friday, it will be Eto’o whom Chelsea’s opponents will be wary of when contemplating their visit to West London.
Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @garryhayes