If Didier Drogba’s glittering spell at Chelsea could be likened to a rock concert, his final act would have seen him walk off stage after playing an iconic guitar solo, leaving the crowd screaming for an encore. Quite simply, he was star of the show.
Just over 10 years ago, on May 19, 2012, he was responsible for conjuring two moments of brilliance that changed the very face of the club and will live in Chelsea folklore for the rest of living memory.
The Blues were heading into the final minute of the regulated 90 trailing 1-0 to Bayern Munich during their Champions League final, when the Ivorian rose high to meet Juan Mata’s corner and powered a header past Manuel Neuer to take the game into extra time.
At times, Drogba could be a frustrating figure with an occasional rush of blood to the head, and his misguided challenge on Franck Ribery in the penalty area was a perfect example as he put Chelsea’s hopes in the balance. Fortunately, Petr Cech was on hand to save his team-mate’s blushes by denying Arjen Robben from the penalty spot.
And as the game headed to a nail-biting shootout, Bastian Schweinsteiger’s miss from the spot gave Drogba the chance to deliver the moment the club had been waiting nine years for since Roman Abramovich’s takeover.
In all honesty, the 34-year-old never looked like missing. He took one step forward and swept his low effort into the corner, sending Neuer the wrong way to clinch their first-ever Champions League triumph.
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What followed in the midst of celebrations remains a blur, but it was fitting that Drogba went over to show his gratitude to Cech after the goalkeeper’s huge role in their triumph. They had been through it all together, from joining in 2004 to the pain of losing in 2008 and then, unbridled jubilation.
In many ways, that famous night in Munich confirmed for Drogba what he already knew: no encore could eclipse finishing on such a high. The 34-year-old’s contract was up at the end of the season and it had already been decided — but not announced — that he was leaving for Shanghai Shenhua in China.
“I wanted to put an end to all the speculation and confirm that I am leaving Chelsea. It has been a very difficult decision for me to make, but I am very proud of what we have achieved,” he said. “As a team we have accomplished so much, and have won every single trophy possible. Saturday was a very special moment for everyone at the club and for all the fans, and I am very proud to have played my part in bringing many trophies to this club which has been my home for the last eight years.”
Emotions were running high as Chelsea fans, as well as Drogba, struggled to cope with the huge void left by his departure, but his absence was not felt for long. He left Shanghai after the Chinese club were hit by financial difficulties before a spell with Turkish side Galatasaray.
In 2014, Jose Mourinho brought Drogba back to Chelsea — a decade after first signing him from Marseille for £24million — which the striker described as an “easy” decision due to his special relationship with the Portuguese.
Remarkably, at the age of 37, Drogba was tasked with spearheading the Chelsea attack once again after Mourinho decided to drop Fernando Torres. His powers had waned and pace had practically disappeared, but he still possessed the presence of a striker feared in the box, managing seven goals in 40 appearances as the Blues won their fourth Premier League title.
Another adventure beckoned, this time in Canada with Montreal Impact in 2015, before moving on to sign with American outfit Phoenix Rising in 2018. The force of his departure was less brutal this time, aided by the fact Chelsea had already signed Diego Costa, a player built the in same bustling mould as Drogba.
Drogba left Chelsea having scored 164 goals in 381 appearances, winning 12 major trophies and reserving his place as the club’s fourth highest goalscorer of all-time. Even if he was not the most prolific striker in his early days at Stamford Bridge doors, he proved himself to be the ultimate big-game player, managing nine strikes in as many cup finals. Like many rockstars to have played there, he owned the Wembley stage.
But no one could ever fill his boots. The notes he played were unique, the bond he shared with the fans was unrivalled and the memories they had created together were chiselled into the fabric of Chelsea forever.
There would only be one Drogba — and Chelsea can count themselves fortunate to have had him leading their band of stars for nine glorious years.