Well after midnight in Istanbul, Didier Drogba was still making his way through the crowd of autograph seekers and fans with camera phones who had invaded the corridors under the Turk Telekom Arena. The Galatasaray striker had popped into the Chelsea dressing room on the way, the one opposing player who, Frank Lampard said, does not have to knock first.
Having faced the club with which he won it all, how did Drogba respond to Jose Mourinho's prediction that he would get the greatest reception of any returning player to Stamford Bridge? "It's going to be nice but it will not affect my game," Drogba said. "As much as I love this club, I am now wearing the Galatasaray jersey and I have to respect the club and the fans. So I will give everything for my team. After the games, yes, I can show more emotion."
On Wednesday night, it was not impossible to imagine Drogba still doing a job for Chelsea, especially with Mourinho identifying the old failings in his team's attacking play in the 1-1 draw that he had voiced in that private conversation recorded by Canal Plus. Now Mourinho is faced with the prospect of his former centre-forward, who used to win games as a matter of course for Chelsea, coming to Stamford Bridge to try to rescue a place in the Champions League quarter-finals for Galatasaray.
The return of Drogba will be a reminder of what Chelsea have lacked all season, even taking into account the efforts of Samuel Eto'o. In Istanbul, the old lion of Africa was not at his most potent for Galatasaray and was well-handled by John Terry and Gary Cahill. For all the affection from the Chelsea fans, however, there is always the lurking danger that Drogba could turn the tie at Stamford Bridge.
"We have to believe and anything is possible, "Drogba said, when asked whether Galatasaray could still prevail. "I think there will be maybe a little bit more space, so let's see. It will be different to going back to Marseilles [with Chelsea]. We had already qualified [for the next round] and it was like a testimonial. Now there is a game to win."
Certainly, it sounds like Drogba has put the emotional aspect far from his mind. "There's a lot of love both ways between Didi and Chelsea," Lampard said. "He popped in the dressing room after. It's like he's never gone, he was so friendly with everyone. I don't think he even bothered knocking on the door. Who's going to stop him, anyway?"
Asked whether he felt that Chelsea had lacked that killer instinct, Lampard conceded that they might have scored more. "Our run since December has been fantastic in the league, we have put ourselves right up in the [title] race," he said. "Ideally, you'd say we could score more goals but I'd say we are playing pretty well as a team."
As for Mourinho, there was faint praise for Fernando Torres, who has been, he said, "very acceptable". Torres was Chelsea's goalscorer on Wednesday, his eighth of the season and only his third goal since the end of October, although injuries have to be taken into account. Demba Ba has featured just twice since the turn of the year and Mourinho seems to have no faith in him.
Whether Chelsea can kill off teams will play large in the title race over the next few weeks. Win at Fulham tomorrow and then at home to Tottenham seven days later and they would put themselves nine points ahead of third-placed Manchester City, who do not play another league game until 15 March. There is unhappiness that Chelsea are scheduled to play tomorrow, having only arrived back from Istanbul at 4am Thursday morning.
"It's up to us," Lampard said. "We could have done with Fulham being on a Sunday but you don't get too many favours, considering the journey we have now. We won't make excuses before the game but if that's the case we need to get our heads down and concentrate on ourselves. It's tight and that would be a nice gap."
Mourinho has reached the stage where he is not trying to hide his frustration at the team's obvious weak point, although there is little he can do about it until the summer.
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