“I think finals are there to be won, you know the feeling of losing a final is really bad. I prefer to lose a semi-final, quarter-final because I know I will forget... But the feeling of losing a final stays here forever. Even if you win two, three, four, five it stays. You know, I’m too scared to lose, so I give everything to win.” - Didier Drogba.
Footballer Didier Drogba talks to Ned Boulting about his sporting life - from signing for Chelsea for a then-record £24 million to winning the Champions League and his efforts to bring peace to his war-torn home country, Ivory Coast.
Featuring contributions from colleagues, friends and family, including his former manager Jose Mourinho, this programme provides a close view into what drives Didier to succeed.
After moving from Ivory Coast to France as a youngster he was inspired by the progress of his uncle Michel, a professional footballer in the French league: “He was the one who gave me the [passion] for football. Being with him going to the training session, watching the joy of them scoring goals I don’t know and running everywhere, it just gave me the passion for it.”
After turning professional at Le Mans, the striker moved on to Guingamp and then to Marseille, helping the club to the 2004 UEFA Cup Final. When Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea came in to sign him, he says was so settled at the French club he didn’t actually want to leave: “I’m not ready to move, I don’t want to move. It’s not just because it was Chelsea, if any other team came, I would have had the same reaction, I was very emotional, and It was like I started something with Marseille and I didn’t even finish it. I wanted to win the league with Marseille, I wanted to score a lot of goals, I wanted to break records, really wanted to make history with the club. So for me it was like it was stopping me in my progress. So it was a bit frustrating. It was more frustration because I had to leave, and also both clubs agreed, when I was like, ‘No I don’t want to go.’ That is football.”
Initially Didier admits he had a difficult time adjusting and wasn’t popular with fans or the media. But he says he made a resolution to fight on: “Yeah there was some moments when I was saying maybe it’s not for me. Maybe I go back to France, I go back to Marseille because I still had that feeling for Marseille but then I’m you know, I’m a fighter and I was like, ‘No, I came here and I need to achieve something, I need to achieve something and I need to make history here.’ And working with Jose and being around big players, you know you cannot really say, ‘Okay I’m walking away from this,’ you know you have to stand still and stand up and work hard. So I changed my mind and I said, ‘Okay I’m here, I am going to do everything, I’m going to go to the end of my contract, and then we will see what happens.‘“
Chelsea promptly won the Premier League twice in a row, in 2004-05 and 2005-06, dominating other teams with their expensively-assembled team of stars including Hernan Crespo. Arjen Robben, Damien Duff, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien.
Didier says his favourite season was the second time they won the title: “All of us were really friends, but friends in competition for the best of the club, and I think it was the best season of, let’s say, the Jose Mourinho era. The first time is always the best, but I think we enjoyed, we really enjoyed the second one, and also the year with Carlo in 2010, but really the 2005-2006 one was the best.”
Meanwhile, as Didier’s fame grew, his national team Ivory Coast qualified for the 2006 World Cup. He with his team-mates made a plea to both parties in the country’s civil war, asking them to lay down their arms, which was answered with a cease fire.
He says: “All these people who are fighting when they watch the national team’s games they are sitting together and cheering together.
“So, we were thinking we want peace in our country, we really want peace because what we are seeing like curfews and everything and this is not the way we are used to know our country, so we said if we qualify we are going to send this message because we are tired of this, we really want to have our country back so that is where it came from.”
In 2008, Chelsea reached the final of the Champions League against Manchester United in Moscow. Drogba scored twice as the Blues beat Liverpool in the semi-final but was sent off during extra time in the final after slapping Nemanja Vidic.
That meant he watched John Terry miss the final penalty which handed the trophy to United, from the tunnel at the other end of the pitch.
He describes his feelings at the time: “If I was there then yes there was a big chance I was going to take it [the penalty] but you know I think everything happens for a reason, and I think it was not our time. Simply it was not our time it was Manchester United’s time and Cristiano Ronaldo’s time and you know I think it was not our time.”
Didier says when Carlo Ancelotti came in as manager, he was inspired to his biggest haul of goals in a season - with 37 in 44 appearances in all competitions - on the way to Chelsea winning the league title again.
He says: “He helped us to play a different football, a bit more attractive than what we were doing previously and also for a personal point I was like, he put two players behind me, to feed me, like he said to feed me with balls. So it was an incredible year for me and I think I was at my best on that time.”
Two years later, Chelsea reached the Champions League final against Bayern Munich in the German team’s stadium.
Didier, who scored the equaliser which took the game into extra time, recalls how he felt about the match: “I don’t know how to explain even now why I was so relaxed and confident about this game, even when they were attacking and shooting from everywhere, the fact that they didn’t score in the first half even 20 minutes after the first half, I knew we were going to have a special night.”
In his final act as a Chelsea player, he then scored the winning penalty in the 4–3 penalty-shootout that followed, firing the ball into the bottom left corner. He explains what was going through his mind - including copying the Czech player Antonin Panenka’s famous soft chip into the net.
“I was thinking, okay, okay now it is my turn, what do I do, the goalkeeper has gone everywhere we shoot everywhere, every time you take a long run he goes in the right direction, so I decided to do a Panenka, so I thought okay - Panenka. No, no, no, no, Panenka. But I decided to take a two-step then I will not give the goalkeeper any time to read my run and I will see where he is going, so after my first step I could see he had already gone on my right [so] I put the ball on the left and then I think that was it, I was like, 'No it is not possible, no it is not possible.'”
When Didier returns to the Ivory Coast to work with his foundation, which builds hospitals and clinics and helps orphanages. he says he is treated like a celebrity. But that’s not how he sees himself: “First of all I don’t see myself as a superstar, I see myself as a normal guy, one of these guys who had more chances, who was lucky to have his parents behind him to give him the chance to have a good chance in life. So when I go there I don’t know, I always feel that I was lucky to have met that journey because a lot of them some people are better than me, some of the guys there that are playing are much better than me but they didn’t have the chance I had so I do not see myself as a superstar.”