Drogba instantly at ease on return to familiar surroundings
‘If I score I might not celebrate. But if we win I will be happy’
Galatasaray striker Didier Drogba attends a training session of his club at Stamford Bridge in London yesterday. Photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA
Didier Drogba claimed he was “apprehensive” about the homecoming ahead, though the manner in which he broke the ice when holding court in the Harris Suite on the eve of his return suggested otherwise.
While confusion reigned between the Galatasaray press officer and Uefa-appointed interpreter, the Ivorian took the initiative. “I’ll ask myself a question: ‘Didier, how do you feel about coming to Stamford Bridge?’” he offered. “Yeah, I’m really happy to come back and to see some familiar faces. Yes, it’s all good.”
That was all delivered through a toothy grin, the man whose last touch for Chelsea had claimed the European Cup instantly at ease in familiar surroundings.
He spoke of being better able to control those same emotions which once overcame him on his return to Olympique de Marseille, of “finding a way” to play in an arena where he will be showered with adulation before kick-off and raucously appreciated long after the final whistle. And of one day, “but not now because I still want to play”, even coming back in a coaching capacity. He will be just as warmly received then, given the 36-year-old remains an icon at the club, a veteran of eight years’ service, 157 goals and a trio of league titles.
Presentation on pitch
There will be a presentation on the pitch pre-match yet former team-mates, as well as the manager who made him, must now accept Drogba as nothing more than a considerable threat. This tie remains awkwardly on edge, for all that Chelsea appeared so comfortable through the opening period in Istanbul and claimed a critical away goal, and Drogba, even at the twilight stage of a glittering career, has an adrenalin-fuelled incentive to make his mark. This will not be the cowed forward who was so diminished at the Stade Velodrome in December 2010 before that dead rubber against Les Phoceens. “It’s difficult playing Chelsea, but it’s not going to be difficult for me to put myself into the competition,” he said. “Because now I belong to Galatasaray. I need to be professional.
“Of course there will be emotions. Like the first leg when I saw my ex-team-mates, and the Chelsea fans at the stadium. It was special. But then there was the game and the game was tough with high intensity. This will be the same. If I score, with all the respect I have for this club, for the fans and the players, I might not celebrate. But if we win, I will be happy.”
Did he feel a need to remind people here of his continued worth almost two years after his departure under freedom of contract?
“No, not that way. I’ve nothing to prove to this club. Everything I have to prove I did already with Chelsea. No, I come here with another team and I just want to win the game and qualify. There’s nothing personal against Chelsea. There will never be.”
There have been times since – not least at Villa Park on Saturday – when Chelsea have cried out for a battering ram of a player such as Drogba, even if only to fling on late from the bench in tight contests.
Some might suggest they have one, in Romelu Lukaku, though Mourinho’s insistence that the club were well aware that the older man’s contract is ticking down in Turkey was intriguing.
“It has to happen one day,” he said. “As a player, as a coach, as an ambassador, next year, in four or five years, or 10 years, I don’t know. But when a person represents so much to a club and the club represents so much to a person, I think he has to be welcomed back.”
Samuel Eto’o is expected to start against the Turkish club, the Cameroonian trotting on to the training pitch at Cobham yesterday joking loudly with Mikel John Obi, Demba Ba and Eden Hazard about being “the Daddy”.
Eto’o has had his moments since his move from Anzhi Makhachkala last summer but, particularly before this second leg, that moniker still feels more appropriately applied to Drogba. This will be a welcome return. Chelsea must ensure it falls short of being a glorious one.