MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 19: Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during UEFA Champions League Final between FC Bayern Muenchen and Chelsea at the Fussball Arena München on May 19, 2012 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Didier Drogba is likely to leave Chelsea this summer for an enormous contract and a slightly cushier situation. He closed out the hyper-competitive stage of his career in the best way possible.
As Didier Drogba stepped up to the penalty spot on Saturday evening, he looked unaffected by the gravity of the situation. If he made his penalty, he would capture the trophy that he was brought to Chelsea to win ... in 2004. Whether or not he made the spot kick, it was likely to be his last kick of the ball as a Chelsea player. It was far and away the biggest moment of his professional footballing career and the biggest moment in the history of Chelsea FC. He looked unaffected.
Bastian Schweinsteiger failing to convert his penalty was the biggest moment of the final. From then until the match's conclusion, there wasn't really any suspense. It never felt like Chelsea still had work to do after Petr Cech tipped Schweinsteiger's shot onto the post. That was the match's defining moment, because everyone knew who was up next.
Drogba stepped up, sent Manuel Neuer the wrong way and rolled a simple shot into the lower left corner. His teammates went wild. He just smiled. He both expected to score and knew that he had to. It didn't look like the game meant any more to him than a random league match in the middle of the season.
Unsurprisingly, this was not the case. After the match, Drogba spoke about his thoughts before he took the penalty.
"I was confident, but before I went to take it I started thinking about what happened in the African Cup of Nations when I could have won the final for my team [Ivory Coast] and missed. It was very hard but at the same time I was thinking I had to score when Petr Cech had made all his saves. When we have this guy in goal you have to believe. I wanted to score for him and my other team-mates. I wanted to make Chelsea smile compared to the other time when we were all down and crying."
This is a lot to think about in a short walk-up from the halfway line to the penalty spot, and it's surprising to hear that all of these thoughts were running through his head. During that walk-up, it didn't appear that he was thinking about anything. Maybe he has an excellent poker face and he felt like it was important to put one on in that moment, but it's a bit stunning to read that any previous failures ran through his head before he took his penalty.
The two failures that Drogba referred to in that quote were probably the two lowest moments of his career. His penalty miss in the Africa Cup of Nations final this January was shocking, and it was even more shocking that his team couldn't find a goal from open play. Drogba redeemed himself by scoring in the penalty shootout, but Gervinho missed the decisive penalty as Zambia won the shootout 8-7.
In 2008, Drogba cost himself a chance to win the Champions League for Chelsea by getting sent off in the 116th minute of the final against Manchester United. John Terry and Nicolas Anelka both missed penalties in that shootout as Manchester United captured the trophy. If Drogba was still on the pitch, it's possible that neither Terry or Anelka would have taken a spot kick.
For someone who has played for so long and accomplished so much, these career low points aren't that low. The 34-year-old has won 10 major trophies since he arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004. He's scored 280 professional goals and 100 Premier League goals. He's willed his team to multiple trophies.
Drogba was easily the story of this year's Champions League with his goal in the first leg of the semifinal against Barcelona, then his equalizer in the final to force extra time against Bayern Munich. Neither goal was remotely surprising. They both generally elicited a reaction of "yep, that's Drogba". As incredible and dramatic as the 88th minute equalizer against Bayern was, it kind of just felt like the eighth time Robert Horry hit a game-winner in the NBA Playoffs. No one was going to go crazy over that goal unless it came on a bicycle kick or a 40-yard screamer. But a powerful header to the top corner from 10 yards? Been there, done that.
The 2007 FA Cup final was absolutely drab, and Drogba rescued it from penalty kicks, scoring a winner after 115 minutes of awful football. Neither team looked terribly interested in attacking and everyone assumed that both teams would settle for penalties a couple of minutes into extra time. In the 25th minute of extra time, Drogba and Frank Lampard appeared to simply decide that they didn't want to go to penalties. They were good enough that they could make that decision.
Drogba's 2009-10 season, in which he scored 29 Premier League goals in 32 appearances, was a series of clutch moments over and over again. In Chelsea's two league victories over Arsenal, Drogba scored four of Chelsea's five goals. He had two assists in Chelsea's 2-0 home win over Liverpool and scored in a late-season 2-0 win at Anfield. In the season's decisive game at Old Trafford, Drogba came off the bench in the 70th minute and scored in the 79th minute, helping Chelsea to a 2-1 win and eventually, a Premier League title.
While Saturday's game-tying goal and penalty from Drogba were fantastic, they were not exceptional. They were almost standard for him. After Thomas Müller put Bayern Munich ahead, no one would have been surprised if they were able to hold on for the win, but it would have been shocking if Drogba didn't at least manage to hit the woodwork or force a save out of Neuer in the final 10 minutes of normal time. Failure to make an impact would have been more 'exceptional' for Drogba than a goal.
If Drogba has played his last game for Chelsea, he will leave as possibly the greatest player in the club's history. Frank Lampard and John Terry will probably be remembered as the faces of this Chelsea team, if only because they were at the team before Roman Abramovich purchased the club and because they are English, but they have never matched Drogba for pure talent and ability to take over a game. Chelsea won a UEFA Champions League title with Terry out of the squad and Lampard playing a less prominent role than in years' past. They are past the point where they are able to take over games against top sides, and they are past the point where they are far and away better than their backups at the club. Drogba, at 34, is still the Chelsea player most capable of taking over a game by himself. Even when Lampard and Terry were at their best, he was Chelsea's biggest talent.
If Drogba left Chelsea without a European Cup, he might have felt like something was missing from his career. With Chelsea's victory on Saturday, this is no longer an issue, and Drogba's legacy as a Chelsea (and general football) legend is secure.
Eight years after Drogba arrived, Chelsea have the trophy he was brought to the club to win, and he was the man who won it for them. If he leaves for big money in the Middle East, the United States or China, it can no longer be considered a cop-out. His work at Chelsea is done.
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