Even if Didier Drogba would have missed his final penalty kick against Bayern Munich, he would be remembered fondly by Chelsea fans for his 8 seasons with the club. But the reason behind bringing all the big names and spending all that money since 2003 was always one, above the rest – winning the Champions League.
It’s hard sometimes, living with the knowledge that your entire career can be defined by that one title you never won. Chelsea came as close as humanly possible to win it in 2008, under the angry Moscow skies. John Terry slipped and went to cry on Avram Grant’s shoulder, of all people. Grant saw his career and lucky appearance on soccer’s biggest stage go down in the rain.
Drogba knows the feeling all too well; Not just with Chelsea. He’s missed out on the African title too many times with the Ivory Coast, who usually enter the tournaments as the favorites to win. Last time, it was Zambia, in the finals, with the penalty kicks. Drogba missed a penalty with 15 minutes to go in the match. Loser, some like to call it.
Again, people love to define you by what you haven’t achieved. As if everyone are meant to win every possible title and if not, they shall brand their careers failures. Many players have missed out on one, two or more significant titles in their career. It doesn’t mean that their 10-15-20 years on the pitch were for naught. Drogba was great when Chelsea were great. Or is it the other way around?
If Chelsea’s first two titles with Jose Mourinho were all about Frank Lampard, John Terry and the strength in the middle of the park and the defense, while Drogba was a nice forceful addition as a striker, then things were very different under Carlo Ancelotti, Drogba’s finest season. It was also Chelsea’s finest season. Playing their best football, scoring 103 goals along the way. Drogba finished with a league best 29, his best season for Chelsea or any other club.
He kicked off 2010-2011 in a storm, and so did Chelsea. The reliance on Drogba became greater and greater during the last few seasons. Sometimes, it looked like every good thing that happened on Chelsea’s offense was because of Drogba. Not just his ability to create goals by his sheer strength and presence; But also his underrated passing ability and vision. His knack to draw one or two defenders to himself, leaving others open. And also the less attractive parts of his game. The diving.
I don’t know if there was ever a survey done on the matter, but I’m guessing Drogba has been the most hated striker to play against in recent season, be it in the Premier League or in Europe. Not just because he can be impossible to mark on his good days; because you’ll leave the match with bruises all over your body, from Drogba’s knees and elbows. On the other hand, the 6’3 Ivorian seemed to fall and spend extra time on the grass from the gentlest of touches. That’s the sport, and Drogba did what was necessary to win.
But dirty players and teams that don’t have the neutral fans’ vote and support have their days in the sunshine as well. In a season that saw Chelsea lose their expensive manager after a terrible start to the season, after he tried dropping and giving up on the old guard, it was the old guard that Roberto Di Matteo turned to. Drogba isn’t the player he was 3 years ago – Injuries and age have slowed down and weakened his body, but he could still muster up some influential performances in the Champions League, if he got enough rest going into the match.
So when Barcelona came all swag and flair into Stamford Bridge, it was Drogba that connected with Ramires to score the only goal, and then spend half the match grabbing his face on the grass. In Munich, Drogba hardly touched the ball all match, but he scored the goal that sent the game into extra time. He caused the penalty on Franck Ribery and didn’t even argue; Arjen Robben made sure he’ll have a chance at repenting his mistake. The final spot kick for Chelsea was that chance.