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Didier Drogba - the Return of the King


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In the most poetic of endings, Didier Drogba's very last kick for Chelsea was the one that won the club the 2012 UEFA Champions League.

No person of a Blues persuasion will ever forget May 19th, 2012 - from the magnificent headed equaliser and game-winning spot-kick supplied by the Ivorian to Petr Cech's penalty shoot-out heroics. It is a memory that will live forever; and one that has immortalised the former Marseilles striker as a Chelsea great.

Drogba was the man for the big occasion - and whilst there was no greater stage than Munich, Drogba had already imprinted his name into Chelsea folklore with cup final goal after cup final goal. No fewer than nine goals in as many final matches had been netted by the big Ivorian - and now, returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time since his departure in the summer of 2012, Chelsea supporters will finally be given the chance to salute their former talisman.

Indeed, the Ivorian and his Galatasaray team-mates will grace West London with their presence in mid-February when the two sides clash in the first knock-out round of the competition. For many a moon Chelsea were indebted to the Ivorian for their continued continental successes - Drogba's 34 goals in 69 matches in UEFA competition represents a club record.

With 157 goals scored in 341 games for the club in all competitions between 2004 and 2012 (a ratio of a goal every 195 minutes), Drogba left the club having secured 12 major honours - 1 UEFA Champions League title; 3 Premier League crowns; 4 FA Cups (where, in 2007, 2010 and 2012 he scored the winning goal, whilst in 2009 he scored the Blues' leveller against Everton); 2 League Cups and 2 Community Shields.

Further personal honours were accumulated - two Premier League Golden Boot awards (2007 and 2010) were followed by victory in both the Chelsea Player of the Year and Players' Player of the Year awards, whilst on an international level the Ivorian was crowned as the African Footballer of the Year on a further two occasions.

drogba+celebrates+cech.jpgIn every sense, then, Drogba's visit to the Bridge represents the Return of the King to SW6.

Not only was he a potent goalscorer - as indicated by his position as the Blues fourth all-time top goalscorer (behind Lampard, 208; Tambling, 202; Dixon, 193; and ahead of Osgood and Bentley; 150) - Drogba was capable of turning provider, as indicated by an impressive tally of 70 assists during his spell with the Blues. That figure combined with his goalscoring statistics means that Drogba either scored or assisted a goal every 137 minutes, cementing his status as not only a Chelsea great but also one of the greatest forwards of the Premier League era.

Whilst something of a myth surrounds the man, his commitment and contribution to Chelsea cannot be underplayed. Indeed, finishing on such a high as he wheeled away to celebrate his winning penalty is the overriding image of Didier's Chelsea career - one that supersedes a difficult period early on where his alleged diving antics were booed by the Stamford Bridge faithful, or the time where, when battling against malaria, the debilitated Ivorian's inclusion in the starting eleven by then-boss Carlo Ancelotti was seen as more of a hindrance than anything else.

Yet his 157 goals, scored against 47 different teams, means that he will always be remembered - and quite rightly - as a Blues great. Of all those goals, it will come as no surprise to recall exactly who his favourite team to play against was. Arsene Wenger still has nightmares of Drogba's 13 goals and and three assists in 14 matches against the Gunners. Liverpool, too, were sick of the sight of the man - Drogba scored 9 goals across his Chelsea career against the Merseysiders, whilst he played what was (quite possibly) his best-ever game for the Blues back Anfield in 2005.

His name is still chanted at Stamford Bridge, and José Mourinho himself said the Ivorian deserves the chance for a rapturous homecoming. Didier Drogba, arguably one of the greatest players in the history of the club, will now be afforded that honour. And what an emotional moment it promises to be...

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