Didier Drogba has confirmed he is leaving Chelsea, a decision which means the striker's last kick of a ball for the English club will be the penalty that sealed a first European Champions League crown on Saturday.
Didier Drogba will be out of contract at Chelsea in 10 weeks' time. Under Andre Villas-Boas, the plan was to leave it that way. Even now, with the future kept at arm's length, the club has offered only a one-year deal that Drogba has refused for being too short. Back in December, bookmakers had Russia as his most likely destination because, as The Mirror put it, "megabucks Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala are spending money like it's going out of fashion... and specialize in buying over-the-hill players." It is not just the odds that need some revision after six days in which Drogba's continuing value has been boldly underscored.
The two key figures in Chelsea's 4-1 win over Swansea City on Saturday weren't on the pitch at the final whistle. They weren't even in sight of it, Fernando Torres having been sent off and Frank Lampard having left the bench a couple of minutes from the end. In their respective narratives is bound up the story of the new Chelsea that is beginning to emerge.
In moments of crisis, return to basics. Carlo Ancelotti wrote his dissertation for his coaching diploma on the 4-3-2-1, and it was to the Christmas tree he returned against Manchester United at Old Trafford. It might have been an inspired reversion -- and indeed it did address some of the problems Chelsea had suffered in the first leg -- but in the harsh light of a 2-1 defeat it may seem like a doomed manager scrabbling desperately for the comforts of the familiar.
When Carlo Ancelotti arrived at Chelsea in summer 2009, he started off playing 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond. That paired Nicolas Anelka and Didier Drogba as strike partners, with Frank Lampard tucked behind. It rapidly became apparent that Lampard is far better played with the ball in front of him than playing with his back to goal.
It has been exactly one year since I traveled 44 hours to Angola to interview Didier Drogba, the Chelsea and Ivory Coast superstar, for a story in Sports Illustrated magazine leading up to last year's World Cup. He couldn't have been more accommodating, spending 90 minutes talking to me in his private bungalow on the heavily fortified Ivory Coast team base in Cabinda during the African Cup of Nations.
The love affair between Didier Drogba and Marseille was a brief and passionate one, and it will be rekindled this week when he returns for the first time since his departure in 2004. On Wednesday, Chelsea takes on the French champions at the Stade Velodrome in the Champions League's Group F Matchday Six encounter.
Hats off to Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti, who surprised everyone -- perhaps even Didier Drogba himself -- by leaving his leading goal scorer on the bench against Manchester United and fielding the same starting 11 that had demolished Aston Villa the week before.
Every team at this summer's World Cup has key players on which it depends. But some squads have players who influence the game so much that their team simply isn't the same without them. These are the "untouchables" -- the guys for whom coaches, fans and even teammates at times say little prayers in hopes they'll stay healthy. Here are some of those players whose teams need them to be at their very best.
Ivory Coast international Didier Drogba already has two goals after the first two games of the English Premier League season with Chelsea (2-0). One of the game's most feared strikers, Drogba, 31, sat down with me in Baltimore recently to talk about Chelsea, next year's World Cup and what it takes to adjust to so many new managers in a short time. Here's an edited version of our conversation:
First Blood to Manchester United, as goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs made them the John Rambo to Chelsea's bumbling small town sheriff in last Sunday's EPL finale. At the moment it's anyone's guess who'll play the muscle-bound Vietnam veteran, and who'll be the hapless Vietnamese soldiers in next week's sequel.
With his two-point conversion to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl and his subsequent on-field proposal to cheerleader Chrissy Popadics, one might have thought Boise State's Ian Johnson, 20, had fulfilled his sports-related dreams. But, no. After the game, the running back revealed that he longed to chat up Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba, 28, a star striker for Chelsea. Talking to Drogba, Johnson said, "would be huge ... as big as winning this game." So I arranged for a transatlantic phone call between the two, and listened in. Here are excerpts from their conversation: