Didier Drogba, one of the most enigmatic figures in the English game in recent years, has never looked more at home than he does right now. Admittedly, the unpredictable nature of his colourful career means whoever makes such a statement is liable to end up with egg on their face before too long.
However, after Drogba's three goals against West Bromwich Albion had made him the first player to score successive hat-tricks in Premier League games since Ian Wright in 1994, Chelsea's imposing centre-forward, who celebrated his 32nd birthday back in March, claimed his desire had never been greater.
Playing as the focal point in Chelsea's free-scoring side, Drogba enjoyed his best return last season with 37 goals, despite spending more than a month away with the Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations.
With no distractions this time around, and moving more freely than he has for years after recent surgery to correct a chronic hernia, Drogba spoke of his desire to play for Chelsea for five more years. David Beckham may be too old for Fabio Capello at 35 but the Chelsea striker believes there will be life in the old Drog yet, even when he is 37.
"I was already 25 when I started at the highest level so I still feel young, even if I'm 32," Drogba said. "I still love the pitch, running. I don't count the runs – I just go. Maybe in one or two years' time it will be different. I don't know. But I love it. That's it. If I keep playing in a team like this I can play maybe five more years."
The view was shared by his manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who said he has never worked with a striker as consistent as Drogba.
The former Milan and Juventus coach said: "He is fit, he does not have problems physically, he is a professional player so he trains professionally. I think that he can play for a lot of years again. The most important thing is the mentality, to be happy to train and play, and I think that Didier is this kind of man.
"I have been happy to work with a lot of strikers, but it is difficult to find a striker with the kind of continuity of Drogba. I will sign if he can repeat 37 goals again. Sometimes he loses the ball, when he [could] use his body to protect the ball and to lose less ball. But I can concede this if he scores."
Drogba has been forgiven many things during his six years at Chelsea. Almost every season, he has seemed on his way out, like when he was frozen out under Luiz Felipe Scolari or when he was banned for three games by Uefa for his amazing rant at officialdom following Chelsea's Champions League elimination to Barcelona in April 2009. However, this is also a man who has helped to end a civil war in Ivory Coast, and who gave his £3m sponsorship fee from Pepsi to build a hospital. He is a contradictory, complex character and the Premier League is richer for his presence.
There was certainly no sign of age catching up with this Chelsea side as they took out their individual frustrations from disappointing World Cup experiences with a collective display of relentless attacking power against newly promoted West Bromwich, who made the hosts' task easier by committing some simple defensive errors.
Florent Malouda began and ended the scoring, with a pair of decisive finishes, while, in between, Drogba completed a hat-trick and Frank Lampard opened his account for the season with a precise finish from a neat passing move.
Chelsea broke the Premier League scoring record with 103 goals last season, and another haul like that is highly unlikely. Yet these footballers clearly enjoy playing together, and the departure of five senior figures, including Joe Cole and Michael Ballack, has been accepted without complaint. Ancelotti is usually loath to make rash predictions concerning his team but, after seeing his side coast to a 6-0 victory, he said they were well capable of improving on last season's Double.
"Sure, I think that these players can repeat the same season. Our aim is to do better if it is possible. We have started better than last year, showing more confidence, and I think that we can do better," he said.
The heavy defeat left the West Bromwich manager, Roberto Di Matteo, hoping to strengthen his squad in the last two weeks of the transfer window. He has already brought in five new players, including the defenders Pablo Ibanez and Gabriel Tamas who made their debuts at Chelsea, but wants more. "We are a little light. Hopefully, I can sign some more players," Di Matteo said.
Chelsea 4-3-3: Cech; Ferreira (Ivanovic, 60), Alex, Terry, Cole; Essien, Mikel, Lampard (Benayoun, 64); Anelka, Drogba (Kalou, 70), Malouda. Substitutes not used Hilario (gk), Zhirkov, Sturridge, Van Aanholt.
West Bromwich Albion 4-5-1: Carson; Jara, Tamas, Ibanez, Cech; Morrison, Mulumbu, Brunt, Dorrans (Cox, 67), Thomas (Barnes, 84); Bednar (Miller, 67). Substitutes not used Myhill (gk), Olsson, Reid, Shorey.
Man of the match Drogba.
Referee M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
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