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.

scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape