Drogba, Chelsea's African king
In the past fortnight, we have probably seen every facet of Didier Drogba's on-field character, in what might end up being an impressive swansong to his career at Chelsea.
His opening goal against Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup semi-final went to show that his explosive talent has not diminished with age, hammering in an unstoppable left-footed strike from 20 yards out. His display against Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg maybe reflected more of his dark side, being criticised for his time-wasting tactics, but his showing at the Camp Nou typified the heart, passion and commitment he can bring to a game.
It stands to reason then, that his last kick for Chelsea could also bring about their greatest-ever triumph when they face off against Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on 19 May. In just over 60 days, Drogba's contract will run out, but his displays have defied the critics in recent weeks, having been labelled as past his best and surplus to requirements.
What is beyond doubt, though, is that he has been at the core of Chelsea's most successful period in their history, and he is the most prolific and successful African player to grace English football. His strike against Stoke City last month brought up his 100th goal in the Premier League, making him the first from the continent to reach that milestone.
However, that goalscoring landmark sits as merely a footnote below the ten pieces of silverware he has helped Chelsea to during his eight-year stay at Stamford Bridge – with every chance he could add two more over the next three weeks.
Three league titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and two Community Shields make for a hugely impressive haul since his move from Marseille. A trip to Wembley next Saturday and then to Munich a fortnight later to compete at the pinnacle of European football would certainly be a memorable way to bookend his time in London.
A player who has divided opinion amongst fans since his arrival in England, you'd be hard pressed to find many who wouldn't want him in their side. Only Samuel Eto'o can challenge him as the best African striker of the 21st century.
His destructive style of play, borne out of his immense strength, size and impressive turn of pace, has terrified defences both domestically and across Europe ever since he pulled on the blue of Chelsea. With a keen eye for goal and athleticism to score in almost any fashion, there is no doubt he will be missed should he look for pastures new.
Whatever he decides to do next season, interim manager Roberto Di Matteo believes he will prove his longevity. He said: “I’m sure he will continue to play football whether with Chelsea or someone else, even for another couple of years.” The Italian also insisted his legacy at the club would be just as long-lasting, saying: “Drogba’s part of the history of this club and always will be.” A point the Ivorian may cement even further next month.
His goal at Stamford Bridge against Barcelona, clinically taken having survived wave after wave of pressure, provided the 1-0 lead to take to Spain, giving them the platform to reach the Champions league final. This presents him with a second chance to win European club football's greatest prize.
He bore the brunt of the blame for Chelsea's defeat to Manchester United in Moscow when they met in the 2008 final. Drogba's red card just four minutes from the end of extra time at the Luzhniki Stadium was a moment of madness that potentially cost them the title as they lost 6-5 on penalties.
He may arguably rank the two CAF Africa Cup of Nations final defeats with Côte d'Ivoire as the biggest heartbreaks of his career, but losing in Russia must be close. A moment of redemption in Munich would surely put to rest the biggest blot tarnishing his Stamford Bridge copybook.
Arriving after just a year at OM amid much fanfare following an explosive season in Europe, where he scored 11 goals in 16 games, there remained some doubters as to whether he was worth the £24million sum. Jose Mourinho was a long-time admirer of his, but still wasn't sure how his investment would be returned. He said: “I tried to sign him for Porto two years ago but I did not have enough money to do it.
“I think we will only know when a player is cheap or expensive at the end of their contract. Sometimes you pay £5m for a player, you think he is very cheap and then he's the most expensive player in history because he never plays.”
While he scored well in his first two seasons when Chelsea claimed the title in both years and Drogba personally topped the assists chart in the latter campaign, he was still yet to reach his peak.
He finally finished as top scorer when they missed out on the championship to Manchester United in 2006/07, scoring 33 goals in all competitions, before repeating the feat in 2009/10 – this time hitting the net 29 times in the league. Having clocked up over 155 goals across the board for Chelsea, with an average of one every two games in Europe, it's safe to say his impact has been worthwhile.
However, despite all his achievements when crossing the white line, arguably his greatest influences have been felt off the pitch. Last December he was presented with a humanitarian award for his efforts stemming from the Didier Drogba Foundation and his work with the United Nations Development Programme. He also famously donated his entire £3m endorsement fee with a drinks brand to his foundation to go towards building a hospital in his birthplace of Abidjan.
Probably his most noted impact, though, has been his attempts to quell civil war in Cote d'Ivoire. Following qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany, he and the rest of the national side were pictured getting to their knees and calling for peace between the warring factions. It was credited with helping to bring the five-year conflict to an end, and was one of the contributing factors to him being nominated as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010.
He was again outspoken when fighting broke out last year, but insists he has no desire to go into politics when he hangs up his boots, saying this is all because of the love for his country. “[I'm] just a kid from Côte d'Ivoire who wants to help his country. I am not a politician, I will never be. But if I can help my country I will do anything.”
Wherever he goes beyond Chelsea, be it football, activism, or even running for office, there's no doubt Drogba will continue to leave his indelible mark.