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Didier Drogba: Why no player built a legacy like he did at Chelsea

COMMENT: Think Chelsea and who comes to mind? JT? Lamps? Yeah, if you're a season ticket holder, it's more than likely images of John Terry and Frank Lampard will instantly appear. But if you're abroad. Indeed, if you're just beyond King's Road. There's only one player who epitomises the modern Chelsea...

At 40, Didier Drogba announced his retirement last week. An icon. A legend of Chelsea Football Club. Four league titles. Four FA Cups. And that Champions League win in Munich. In his two spells with the Blues he wrote himself into the club's history books. But his greatest achievement can't be measured. Nor accurately defined. And it's a legacy that is still being built upon today.

Before Leo Messi, there was a Barcelona. As there was a Real Madrid before Cristiano Ronaldo. But Chelsea? Drogba? No player in the modern game has catapulted their club into the elite as Drogba did over his nine seasons a Chelsea player.

Roman Abramovich's money helped, sure. And Jose Mourinho - the original Special One - also had his say. But he came and went. Drogba was the constant. And in terms of the owner's spending, there's been plenty of clubs across Europe with multi-millionaire dreamers. However, none had a player of the charisma of Drogba.

Maybe it was timing. The growth of the Premier League. Markets across Africa and Asia aggressively attacked. The EPL undercutting the efforts of the Bundesliga and LaLiga to get a foothold in these emerging regions. It really did all kickoff as Abramovich took control. But Chelsea still needed a name to cash in. A symbol to appeal to fans beyond England and Europe. A big, engaging, dynamic centre-forward. Courageous. Magnetic. A player capable of producing moments of sheer inspiration. Again. And again. And again...

Chelsea had that in Drogba. Abramovich had caught lightening in a bottle. His investment fast becoming a global power. A threat to Manchester United's popularity across Africa. Overtaking Serie A's biggest clubs throughout East Asia. And all done with next to no marketing investment. The sudden worldwide appeal built upon the shoulders of his Ivorian No9.

The attraction was he was relatable. For all the multi-million pound contracts. The flash cars. Drogba was accessible. No-one could resent the rewards earned by a player who didn't turn pro until 21. Who never had the chance of Clairefontaine. Who never found himself 'in the system'. Instead, Drogba agonised choosing a football career over accounting. And would scratch around Le Mans and then Guingamp for four years before finally catching the eye of Olympique Marseille - but only after initial rejection.

Franck Leboeuf, the former Chelsea defender, revealed this past week he tried to get Drogba into Marseille a year before his move - only no-one at OM had heard of him. "I had been offered the position of general manager (at Marseille). It was Robert Louis-Dreyfus, at the time, in 2002. He had proposed it to me, I refused," recalled Leboeuf.

"He asked me 'Who would you take in front of you?' I had mentioned (Dado) Prso and Didier Drogba.

"The president tells me, 'Who is Drogba?' He was playing at Guingamp. I told him 'He's going to be as strong as Thiery Henry'.

"A year later, he arrived (at Marseille)."

He did it the hard way, did Drogba. But he always managed to find a path through.

Another thought exercise. Think Manchester United and the Champions League. It has to be Ole Gunnar Solskjaer stab. Liverpool? Steven Gerrard in Istanbul. And Chelsea? Well, that's easy. 2012. The Allianz Arena. Bayern Munich. In their city. Inside their stadium. Drogba's header to equalise. His foul. Robben's fluffed penalty. And then that final spotkick in the shootout. A rollercoaster. A moment in time. In history. A dose of reality that no fiction writer would dare attempt publish. Only Drogba and Chelsea were capable of that.

United have Solskjaer. The Reds their Gerrard. Manchester United and Liverpool. Two pillars of the English game for nigh on 80 years. And today Chelsea sit alongside them. With their very own European fairytale.

And it's all thanks to a player who fashioned a modern day legacy like no other. He was and remains the epitome of Chelsea Football Club. A reputation built in parallel to his club's global profile.

Abramovich and the modern Chelsea would never have achieved what they have without Didier Drogba.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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