Amid all the smiles and the jokes, the serious focus still shone through. Didier Drogba was back at Stamford Bridge on Monday night, fielding questions about his return this evening in the Champions League with Galatasaray.
Drogba was the star of the show, and did enjoy it, but as he made clear, he has come here to win. The 36-year-old striker does not expect the emotion to have an impact on his game – “I will find a way to play” – and Jose Mourinho, who brought him to Chelsea nearly 10 years ago, predicted the same.
Sentiment has a place but there is too much of it in football and true champions, like Drogba, like Mourinho, know where the schmaltz stops and the game starts. “It’s very difficult to play against Chelsea, but it’s not going to be difficult for me to put myself into the competition, because now I belong to Galatasaray,” said Drogba, who is understandably confident in his ability to block out all of the noise.
“I need to be professional. Of course there will be emotions. Of course. Like in 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 as you saw was tough, with high intensity. It’s going to be the same [tonight].”
Mourinho, who enjoyed his own emotional return to Stamford Bridge with Internazionale in 2010, is just as confident in Drogba’s ability, after the initial welcome, to shut out everything else and focus on the football. “He can, he can, he can,” Mourinho insisted. “Maybe he can’t for a couple of minutes. Maybe he can’t when he goes on to the pitch and he gets probably one of the best moments in his career. But after that, players, managers, we can do it, we can clean it from our minds and focus on the game. I think no problem for him.”
Mourinho certainly expects a strong performance, just like Drogba’s in the first leg. “I don’t think he was so quiet, he almost scored and did his work well. He is still top quality, top quality. I know that. He does not look his age.”
Drogba’s desire to take Galatasaray into the quarter-finals was obvious, and he must know that he has a puncher’s chance of ending Chelsea’s Champions League campaign here on Tuesday night.
He was pressed on whether or not he would celebrate should he score against Chelsea. Drogba was not sure but, after consideration, said that he might not. “Let’s see if it happens,” he equivocated. “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. That is OK?”
Given everything that Drogba did for Chelsea, he ought to have enough credit stored up to mark scoring a goal in any way he chooses this evening. There can be no doubt that he is very keen to do just that. “Every time we go out and play away, we really want to win.”
Gary Cahill, who will be playing against Drogba for the first time since 2011, would not hold it against him if he did celebrate, and the Chelsea dressing room is clearly brimming with goodwill for their departed talisman. In his final days at the club, Drogba bought commemorative rings for all of his team-mates who won the 2012 Champions League with him.
“I admire him as a guy,” Cahill said. “He’s got a lot of respect at this football club, and rightly so. [The gift of rings] was a gesture of what kind of guy he is. It was amazing. Everyone was taken aback by what he did.”
But there will be no room for any of this when the whistle blows this evening and Drogba starts trying to out-manoeuvre Cahill and John Terry. From that point on it will be very strictly business.
“I’ve nothing to prove to this club,” he insisted. “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.”
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