football

Montral Impact tussle with Chelsea over Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba (left) celebrates a Chelsea goal with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic.
Didier Drogba (left) celebrates a Chelsea goal with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovic. Reuters/John Sibley

Didier Drogba, one of Africa's most distinguished sportsmen, is at the centre of a tug of war between the English Premier League champions Chelsea and the US Major League soccer franchise Montreal Impact.

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Chelsea want their former star striker back as a coach to reinvigorate the team's faltering league campaign. Montreal want Drogba to spend a second season with them after he helped them to third place in the Eastern Conference and a semi-final spot in the MLS championship play-offs.

Drogba's love affair with Stamford Bridge started in July 2004. The newly installed Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho made him his prize signing. The Portuguese manager told Chelsea to pay a club record fee of 24 million pounds to prise him from the French outfit Marseilles.

The Cote D'Ivoire international went on to become the the star striker as Chelsea won three Premier League crowns, four FA cups, two League Cups and the Uefa Champions League under Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink and Roberto di Matteo.

In the 2012 Uefa Champions League final against Bayern Munich, Drogba scored an equaliser in the 88th minute and after extra-time, converted Chelsea's fifth penalty in the shoot-out for Chelsea to win the cup.

That, he announced in the euphoria of victory, was that. The kick would be his last contribution in the blue shirt. There followed stints in Turkey and China.

But Drogba was lured back to west London at the start of the 2014/15 campaign. The 36-year-old responded to the call of Mourinho who had rejoined Chelsea at the start of the 2013 season.

In May 2015, Chelsea were Premier League champions for a fourth time. They'd also bagged the League Cup at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur. It was their third championship under Mourinho. Drogba's decision to return and accept a role as understudy to Diego Costa and Loic Remy had reaped dividends.

Mourinho paid tribute. "I think for such a legend in this club, coming back and accepting that role was a difficult decision to take. But we believed in him and he believed in himself adn there were many chances to show that he is important which he's always been in this club.

"To be important you don't have to play 90 minutes in 50 games. To be important you need to be there when the team needs you to be there. He made a fantastic contribution to us this season."

That eulogy was in May 2015. His legend enhanced, Drogba went off to stretch his legs and cash some MLS pay cheques.

Mourinho was supposed to steer Chelsea into a glory laden wonderland.

But it's all gone wrong for the Portuguese. Eight days ago, Mourinho was dismissed by Chelsea for a second time after the side lost nine of their 17 games in the Premier League. They're also out of the League Cup. But they are into the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League. Hiddink has been brought in for a second time as interim manager.

Drogba's return to the club might not only galvanise the players but it could also set him on the path for more influence, says Jonathan Wilson editor of the football magazine The Blizzard.

"As one of the greatest forwards of his age, it's understandable that you would look to bring in someone to help with the forwards. But I think there's more to it with Chelsea. Drogba represents the real core of the club. One of the many reasons for Chelsea's decline this season is that they've lost the leaders they used to have.

"They once had goalkeeper Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard and Drogba. They were the big four who were there from Mourinho's first spell in charge right up until a year or so ago.

"Although the managers changed, that core held the team together, so if Drogba were to come back, it would be an attempt to bring that core philosophy of what made Chelsea successful."

Heaven knows they need some magic dust. The players who intimidated all and sundry last season have often looked second rate. Terry, who has just turned 35, has looked diminished and the skipper might not survive the cull at the end of the season.

Hiddink has refused to be drawn on whether Drogba will join his backroom staff. "I worked with him when I was last here at Chelsea and I was delighted to have such a professional in the squad," the Dutchman said. "He's a legend already in this club. The only thing is at the moment is that he's playing in Montreal."

Montreal say it was agreed in Drogba's contract that he would have a second season in Canada. That camapign starts in March.

"We are doing everything we can to have him back with the Impact in 2016," the club said. "We are willing to accommodate him."

Roman Abramovic has spent hundreds of millions on Chelsea since purchasing the club 12 years ago. Buying out a contract to bring back a club legend would be a mere bagatelle for the billionaire.

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