“The beautiful game”, can also be the cruelest arena. Just ask Owen Hargreaves, yesterday a Manchester City player, this time last year a Manchester United player and this time five years ago a Bayern Munich player, now a free man, without a club to manage him nor fans to cheer him. A cruel waste of talent.
However, there can be miracles too. Any Manchester City fan will testify that the game can easily turn round, back into your favour. 44 years of heartbreak eradicated in one second; a dream end to a dream season for the blue half of Manchester.
Not just football miracles, but human miracles too. On the 17th of March, pundits, fans and players must have been convinced they had seen a footballer die on the pitch. Just over a month later, those same pundits, fans and players, did see Fabrice Muamba walk onto the pitch.
The ending to Didier Drogba’s Chelsea career is a representation of a football miracle, but to a degree a human miracle. So good, it appeared to the untrained eye that it must have been scripted, although if it were, it would take several Spielbergs to write.
However, it did not seem prophesied from the beginning. Didier was not blessed with the same quality of facilities that the Barcelona and Athletic Bilbao players appear blessed with. In 1998 he signed for Le Mans, whilst studying accountancy. At this point the lack of good training facilities began to reveal itself. Drogba struggled to train day in day out, although blessed with a tall stature and an imposing physique, he was not blessed with endurance and was cursed by injury. He struggled to establish himself in the first team, and at 21 questioned whether or not he would even make the grade as a professional footballer.
However in 2002 he was scouted and signed by Guingamp for 10,000 times less than the fee 80 million pound fee that took Christiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid 7 years later. Nonetheless, a return of 17 goals in 34 appearances earned him a move to Marseille in 2003, as Drogba trained hard and adapted his game and body in order to become a top footballer.
This was the pivotal point in his career; a young man coming to a large club with a good reputation. Some in such a position have have flown, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Emmanuel Adebayor will all recount with fondness their moves to larger clubs. Others have fallen, most tragically the Brazilian Denilson upon his move to Real Betis.
Drogba flew, scoring 19 goals in 35 games and earning a big money move to Chelsea in 2004 . At 26 years old Drogba was expected to be reaching his peak as a footballer, although he is the epitome of a late developer. Chelsea won their first league title in his first season, with Didier finding his feat in the big games that would characterize the rest of his career, scoring against Liverpool in the League Cup final. However, his and Chelsea’s best was yet to come, 96 points collected the following season and Drobga scoring 32 goals in his first two seasons.
He eclipsed this total in just one season, scoring 33 goals in the 2006-2007 season, the most important of which coming, typically, against Manchester United in the FA Cup. Throughout United’s period of dominance Drogba was still everpresent in the league, and was frequently amognst the highest scorers in the league.
There was a great deal to admire about Didier, but also a great deal to criticize, which many did. Drogba has been frequently “accused” of diving and overexertion when trying to punish opponents. Drogba was reportedly heartbroken by Jose Mourinho’s exit from the club and seriously considered ending his Chelsea career in 2008. The worst moment in the mercurial career came, ironically, in the 2008 Champions League Final. His slap of Vidic ended his game, Chelsea’s chances of victory and Drogba’s Chelsea career. Or so we thought.
The story doesn’t end there, unfortunately for Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool fans. His next season was perhaps his most quiet, with Chelsea struggling on and off the pitch. However, in 2009-2010 Didier reached his peak, terrorizing the league. After a four year wait Chelsea regained their Premier League trophy, and Drogba regained the golden boot with 29 league goals. The 8-0 win against Wigan on the final day of the season epitmosied the season that Chelsea and Drogba had had, the Ivorian netted a hattrick.
This has been no vintage season for Drogba. 2011-2012 has been disrupted by mismanagement from Andre Vilas Boas in trying to move out the “old guard” and the re-emergence of Fernando Torres. But it had a vintage ending, yet another cup final goal against Liverpool won Drobga yet another FA Cup. That seemed like the happy ending for Chelsea and Drogba, but football always a wee bit more. On Saturday it may have been Bayern’s city. It may have been Bayern’s stadium. But it was Drogba’s night. For one last time we heard Martin Tyler scream at the top of lungs “Drogbaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” as we have done for years and years. For Drogba to sweep home the winning penalty was magical. The realization of Roman Abramovich’s long held dream, and the dream of every single Chelsea fan. It seemed as though Drogba’s career would fade, as would the likes of Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. But the never say die attitude is the spirit that makes Drogba, and his team mates, champions. Undeserved champions, sure, no one can deny that Chelsea have not been Europe’s best team this season, but champions nonetheless. Drobga swept home with the coolness and confidence that has embodied his career, and Chelsea hauled the European Cup high.
Many may question my claim early, that Drogba’s is a happy ending in both a football and a human sense. Footballing sure, but human? The lad who throws himself on the floor, exxagerating the slightest touch to get an opponent booked? This is undeniable, some may call it cheating. Equally, however, it is gamesmanship, and risking one’s reputation in order to aid the victory of his team; an admirable quality. Similarly admirable is Drogba’s work outside of the game. Whilst many superstar footballers nowadays use their reputation and money for immoral purposes, Drobga is the epitome of an anti-footballer, ending a civil war in the Ivory Coast, and personally funding the building of new hospitals in his home country. In a team, and lets face it an occupation, that struggle to hold just one relationship at a time, Drobga was stayed devoted to his wife and child throughout his career.
All this seems fairly final, a bit of an obituary for Drogba. His career is not yet over, it is merely a new start for him. But it is likely that he will follow a similar path to David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Nicholas Anelka in moving to a smaller league outside of Europe to see out his playing days. A relaxed ending to an enthralling career. And why not. He deserves it.
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