European Football

Some things don’t change, but Drogba has

He’s 36 years old and a battle-hardened striker. Did people really think that Didier Drogba was going to cause Chelsea too much harm in the second leg of the Champions League tie with Galatasaray? Apparently so, but if the game taught anyone anything, it was that the old Ivorian’s legs have gone and the sharpness is just not there. It’s time for Didier to hang his boots up.

It happens and invariably, players are reluctant to admit it. Drogba left Chelsea in the aftermath of his Champions League winning penalty against Bayern Munich in May 2012. There were reasons, but one key element may have been a little self-realisation that his time at the highest level was drawing to a close. He wanted to bow out on a high, and he certainly achieved that objective.

Rightly, Drogba was welcomed back to Stamford Bridge with all the pomp and circumstance that a returning king deserved. “Always in our hearts,” claimed one banner, while another – in Galatasaray orange – simply proclaimed, “Drogba the legend”. Earlier in the day, Jose Mourinho declared that Drogba, one of his favourite sons, should return, as a player, coach or ambassador. On the evidence of his performance, it won’t be the first of those posts.

Galatasaray may have ambitions, but until they sign players who are not on the way down the ladder, they will not break into the upper echelons of European football. Their fans, who have attracted attention of the negative kind over the years, obviously believe they are a mighty club already. They were terrific, a fearsome sight (despite the whistling chant) at the corner of Stamford Bridge reserved for visiting support. I don’t know how many were present, but they made enough noise for 20,000 and drowned out any response from the home fans. They must present a fearsome sight at Galatasaray’s Istanbul home.

At no point did Galatasaray look as though they would cause Chelsea much damage. They didn’t get a chance to settle as Chelsea went ahead on four minutes, Samuel Eto’o netting with a low shot that goalkeeper Muslera should really have kept out. “He’s like a black Jimmy Greaves,” said one informed Chelsea fan, who spent the entire game flaunting the no-smoking rules and declaring that he follows Chelsea “over land and sea…and Leicester” and his hatred of Turks “because of the kebabs”. In any stadium, you pay your money, you take your chance and the draw had not been kind to me this time.

I was asked, by the lad to the left,  who had difficulty keeping still, staying focused and speaking without a four letter word punctuating every sentence, “how long you supported Chels?”, to which I replied, “Oh, not that long…..47 years”. He snorted, convulsed as he leaned forward laughing and took another bite from his overpriced sludge burger before saying “Fair play”, as tomato, sorry “red” sauce clung to his mouth like cheap lipstick.

Back to the game – it’s easy to get distracted at Chelsea when you people watch  – Drogba only hinted at what he used to be capable of, sending a scissor kick wide and then a free kick so high that [ironically] struck his “legend” banner.

Chelsea had a succession of chances they should have taken – Eden Hazard, for all his obvious virtuosity, needs to realize he doesn’t need to walk the ball into the net sometimes  – and although Galatasaray looked fairly blunt, it would only take a breakaway to change the outlook of the game. But just before the interval, Chelsea scored again, Gary Cahill shooting home from very close range after John Terry’s header had been dropped by Muslera. No chance, now , of extra time.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t go to extra time,” said my flinching friend next to me. I told him, it couldn’t go to extra time now, as a 2-2 draw would result in Galatasaray going through on away goals. “Oh yeah, right, you’re f***** right. Hey Baz, it can’t go to extra time now.” His mate, all pitbull eyes and CFC neck tattoo, responded in the only language that flinchy would truly understand. I won’t elaborate. But it triggered off a standing chorus of “Carefree…wherever you may be,” a song that I still don’t know the origins of.

At half-time, Baz and Flinchy went off in search of nourishment and illicit smoking, and failed to come back….until 10 minutes into the second half, full of tales of how they had sat in the wrong seats, upset the occupants and left their “chicken and chips” at the wrong location. Thirty years ago, the conversation would have been all about “taking the North Bank” or “running Spurs out of the Park Lane End”, but today, it’s about fast food in the wrong seats. Still, it kept them going for most of the half, in between “Turk-bating” and songs that told “United, Spurs, Liverpool” what they could go and do. It turned out that “Baz” was “Flinchy”’s dad. Well, you lead by example!

The home side had the game in their hands now and the second half was far less interesting, although if they had stepped up a gear, Chelsea would surely have sent Galatasaray home with an emphatic defeat. Drogba received a yellow card, not an unusual occurance at Stamford Bridge, but that didn’t stop him getting a rousing ovation at the end, possibly the easiest he’s earned in his career. If Mou has his way, he will be back.

Chelsea eased through to the quarter-finals, where they will be among the least-fancied teams in the last eight. With Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Paris St. Germain already through, the chances are they will have a very tough tie. But according to arch-kidologist Mourinho, they have no chance, but don’t tell Baz and Flinchy that.

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