Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, claimed yesterday that Didier Drogba remains part of the club's future, and not just a major figure in the recent past, following the £50m signing of Fernando Torres.
Drogba will be 33 next month, and was dropped for the draw at Fulham on Monday evening to make room for Torres, before stepping from the bench to replace the Spaniard for the last 19 minutes. Chelsea have made it clear that some of the club's high earners will be shown the door in the summer, in the same way that Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and three others were moved on in June 2010, which has triggered speculation that Drogba will be one of those sacrificed at the end of this season, with Marseilles only too willing to provide an escape route should one be needed.
Ancelotti however decreed yesterday it is far too early to write the obituaries on Drogba's Chelsea career. The Ivorian is in his seventh season for Chelsea, and his impressive record for the club stands at 141 goals from 295 appearances. Drogba enjoyed his best campaign for Chelsea last year, scoring 37 goals from just 44 games as the west London side claimed the domestic Double. This season however has seen him struggle to repeat those outstanding stats, hamstrung by a bout of malaria and Chelsea's collective loss of form at the end of last year.
Now Torres has been signed by Roman Abramovich to demonstrate a significant change of direction at Stamford Bridge, and it seems like the writing is on the wall for the player who has led the line for the club since 2004.
Ancelotti is ready however to be convinced by Drogba, who he said has proved his hunger to him in training this week and will return to the team for today's FA Cup fourth-round replay against Everton, for which Torres is cup-tied.
"Drogba will start," said Ancelotti yesterday. "I don't know about Nicolas Anelka, but I have to start with Drogba. It is never an easy decision to leave players out, but Didier has shown a very good reaction. He has trained well, with motivation.
"From what I have seen, he's the same Didier, focusing on training and working hard with good motivation. I spoke to him before the [Fulham] game. Nobody is happy [being left out] but he accepts my decision without a problem.
"Everyone here is happy because Torres put more ability to win something in the squad. It is not right to say they are in competition. They have to be in collaboration, to work together to try to do the best for the team. There must be collaboration, not competition, in the squad.
"They will both be here for a long time. Drogba is not old. He didn't have a lot of injuries and has good motivation. This season he had malaria and for two months or so was not in good condition. This season he still has time to do the best and be important for us in all the games."
Chelsea's preparations for the game were complicated yesterday when Ancelotti named £25m defender David Luiz in his provisional team, only for club secretary David Barnard to point out that he was ineligible, having registered for the club after the initial game against Everton. Branislav Ivanovic is likely to move across from right-back to cover for Luiz, with Paulo Ferreira coming in at full-back.
Chelsea have fallen from first place in late November to their current position of fifth in the Premier League, and face a tough challenge to qualify for next season's Champions League.
In the FA Cup however they are still No 1, having won the competition for the past two seasons. Ancelotti admitted the Cup holders will have to "battle" today, against the team they beat in the 2009 FA Cup final.
"Every game against Everton is difficult," he said. "They have fantastic organisation. They use power and want to play a tough game. They like to fight for every ball. This is why we had difficulties in the past. Obviously we don't want to play the game as a battle. We want to try to play football. But we have to fight when it's necessary to fight."