James Lawton: Drogba says his place in history can wait – at least for while

It's hard to remember a more dramatic galvanising of a talent than Drogba produced

This may have been the night when the dizzying progress of a hitherto brilliant young football coach was rescued from the wrath of a notoriously impatient oligarch.

Time will tell, as it always does in football and in life, but for the moment there is no question where Chelsea's embattled Andre Villas-Boas must register the largest slice of indebtedness he has ever acquired in his meteoric progress from the status of an eager young technician of the game to one of its best rewarded managers.

It is with what is left of the talent of Didier Drogba, who is supposed to be heading down the road which sooner or later beckons the greatest and most formidable of players.

Last night the big, smouldering man from the Ivory Coast said that if he is essentially part of Chelsea's past, edged into the margins by the years and the need – even, the job assignment – of Villas-Boas to make a new and much younger Chelsea, history can wait at least for a little while.

It is hard to remember a more dramatic galvanising of a single talent – and consequently a whole team beset by doubts and the prospect of a humiliating departure from the Champions League – than the one Drogba produced.

Yes, no doubt, Villas-Boas made some vital tactical adjustments. Chelsea no longer defended high and suicidally, at least not in a first phase of cool domination, and there was a clear sense of a team who had found a way to play which made sense, most importantly, to themselves.

But no coach is so inspired, so capable of producing a game plan which meets perfectly the requirements of a desperate situation, that he is not dependent on the ability of certain players to produce the best of themselves when it matters most. In the first half Drogba brought to Stamford Bridge the first serious mood of confidence and calm since the days when Carlo Ancelotti seemed to have seamlessly unearthed the old strength of the team shaped by Jose Mourinho.

By the second half Drogba had become a little less imperious, his running was not quite so devastating, at least until a brilliant surge carried him into the Valencia box with less than 20 minutes to go, but already he had made an indelible mark on this most crucial of nights. His first goal, before Valencia could truly measure the extent their challenge, had all of his powerful control and finishing poise. And then when he put Ramires in for the second with a pass that was less than perfect, but the final touch of another devastating run, Chelsea were suddenly serene.

His second killing goal was the statement of the player who down all the years had so often represented the strength and the striking head of a potentially great team.

Who knows how the potential that Villas-Boas brought to London so confidently will develop now? His celebrations were ecstatic last night, as well they might have been, because unquestionably this was a performance beyond anything he had been able to shape in the first few months of his great challenge.

For the first time Villas-Boas might have been said to have fielded a team which indeed – and ironically enough, given the extraordinary performance of Drogba – did clearly smack not of a faded past and a critical present but the possibilities of a gilded future.

There was plenty of promise from the likes of Daniel Sturridge, even if he had to be cast as the slim promising apprentice beside a heavyweight master, and Oriel Romeu – and in midfield the more experienced Juan Mata and Raul Meireles were the men of touch and savvy alongside the hare-like Ramires.

Frank Lampard, surprisingly at such a critical moment in the history of the club he has served for so long, so relentlessly, was on the bench and a huge celebrant of the one-two punch which put Chelsea on the way to the serious end of the tournament upon which Roman Abramovich puts so much weight.

For Lampard it was surely a night to reflect, as Drogba no doubt did before the kick-off, on how quickly the certainties of the finest careers reach points of critical examination. Plainly, Chelsea are a team who have to create new momentum, and it will take a mighty effort from Lampard now to remain more than an old fighter hanging on to the remnants of his greatest days.

His competitive character is such that he will not go easily. No more than his old and sometimes tempestuous ally did last night. Drogba may sooner than later also be reassigned to the last of his football challenges, somewhere rewarding, no doubt, but not the battleground of his pomp, the one he filled so magnificently last night.

However, Villas-Boas has compelling reasons to weigh the last of Didier Drogba extremely carefully. The big man may be nearing the end of an essentially stupendous career, but last night we saw one of the oldest truths of football. We saw the all-enveloping impact of a great player who believes he still has a little to offer.

Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?