Monday, 19 March 2012

There’s still life in the old Drog

Many have tried to replace him but the last couple of weeks have proved one thing. There’s still life in the Old Drog.

After finally ending his ridiculous goal-drought on Sunday, Fernando Torres is the man making all the headlines at the moment. Yet it has been the return to form of the veteran Ivorian that has been the catalyst to the revived fortunes at Stamford Bridge. 

Now 34, Drogba’s Chelsea career looked as though it may be over just a few months ago with rumours that he was on his way to join Nicolas Anelka in China when his contract expires in the summer. But an explosive display of centre forward play in the epic Champions League comeback against Napoli last week to follow up the winning goal against Stoke a few days before gave an indication that the man voted as Chelsea’s best-ever foreign player in a recent poll by FourFourTwo magazine is far from finished in Europe.

It’s now nearly eight years since Drogba arrived in London having finished as top scorer in Ligue Un and fired Marseilles to the UEFA Cup Final. I remember seeing him play in only his second competitive match in England against a newly-promoted Crystal Palace side at Selhurst Park back in 2004 when he scored his first goal with the kind of towering header that has since become his trademark.

After spending much of his early career as a unremarkable journeyman in France, Drogba did his best to make up for lost time as Chelsea won back-to-back Premier League titles and established themselves as a major European force. He actually scored more goals the following year as Manchester United regained the championship but a succession of injuries meant it wasn’t until 2009 that he returned to his best form, scoring 29 goals as Chelsea were crowned champions under Carlo Ancelotti.

For a while, his success saw the return of English football’s fascination with the old-fashioned, physical style of centre forward and the race was on to find ‘the next Didier Drogba’. It’s no coincidence that Liverpool paid £35 million last year to buy Andy Carroll from Newcastle to provide exactly the same kind of battering ram approach that has served Abidjan’s finest so well, while Chelsea’s purchase of Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht last summer also had the same idea.

Neither has worked out so far and it remains to be seen whether the latest young player to be given the tag will live up to the hype. Tottenham fended off interest from Real Madrid and Liverpool to sign 17-year-old Souleymane Coulibaly last year after he fired an astonishing nine goals in just four matches for Ivory Coast at the under 17 World Cup.

By all accounts, he has settled well into their set-up but at a couple of inches below six foot, it’s unlikely he will ever provide the same aerial threat as the original. The first African player to reach the milestone of 100 Premier League goals, Drogba has certainly recovered well from the crushing disappointment of missing a penalty in the African Nations Cup Final against Zambia last month but will now have his eyes on redemption at the 2013 edition in South Africa next year.

As for his future at Chelsea, Drogba insists ‘I am not a master of my fate, but I will stay as long as possible’. If Roman Abramovitch, John Terry or whoever makes the decision down at Stamford Bridge these days have any sense, they will make sure their Drog hasn’t had his day just yet.