A player returning to their old club is usually notable, but Didier Drogba's first Chelsea FC homecoming on Tuesday is especially well anticipated.
Drogba had already gained a reputation for scoring crucial goals in his eight years at Stamford Bridge before he equalised late in the 2012 UEFA Champions League final against FC Bayern München and then, with his last touch for Chelsea, converted the shoot-out clinching penalty for his tenth and most important trophy with the Blues. After a brief spell in China he moved to Galatasaray AŞ and it is with them that he will step out in west London for the round of 16 second leg with the score at 1-1.
The 35-year-old Ivory Coast forward spoke to UEFA.com about his reunion with the side for whom he claimed 157 goals, his understanding with Wesley Sneijder, and that incredible group stage game with Juventus.
UEFA.com: What went through your mind when you learned you would be going back to Stamford Bridge?
Didier Drogba: I had mixed feelings. First of all I was happy to play against my ex-club, against my friends. But at the same time it is a very special moment because I do not know what my reaction will be. You know that I spent eight years at Chelsea, so I really don't know, I am quite apprehensive about it.
UEFA.com: Can you describe the affinity you have with Chelsea, the club and the fans?
Drogba: It's the club where I experienced everything. I experienced the highest level, big games, big ties. It allowed me to get closer to the best players in the world.
UEFA.com: Will it be special walking onto the Stamford Bridge pitch wearing opposition colours?
Drogba: I hope that Galatasaray qualify. It will be difficult, but I think that regarding the welcome, I think I'm allowed to say that
I will receive a warm welcome, because I know Chelsea's fans and our relationship is really special. It will be great to see them again, I am looking forward to it.
UEFA.com: Did you speak to José Mourinho after the draw?
Drogba: We exchanged one or two messages only. He was telling me: "Enjoy! This is your moment! Enjoy it!" That's it, very simple. I said thank you.
UEFA.com: You earned this Chelsea tie by beating Juventus in a game which ended up being played over two days ....
Drogba: It's true it was a legendary game. I think where we started to believe we could beat Juventus was the first game [in Turin], we drew 2-2 over there. We scored first, they came back, they took the lead and we came back. We felt that at that moment in the season they were in a difficult period, we felt we could achieve something. At home we hoped to get a good result, but we didn't know the weather conditions would change everything for that game. I've often said that the pitch wasn't very good but it was the same for both teams. We had the chance and the opportunity to score, and we did score. That's how we won.
It was not even snow during the first game, it was hail. Big chunks of ice coming down. After five minutes we couldn't even see the ball and it became dangerous, because you had to play with your eyes closed to avoid getting hail in your eyes or in your mouth simply by breathing in. So I exchanged a few words with the referee, together with [Gianluigi] Buffon, and we told the referee it was difficult to continue playing under those conditions.
So the game was postponed. But it snowed all night and we played again the next day – the pitch was very difficult. But I think it was beautiful. A city under the snow is beautiful. And what really struck me: the game was a 3pm kick-off, in the middle of the week, and the stadium was almost full. It shows the passion the fans have for the club. When Wesley scored, [Emmanuel] Eboué and I jumped in the snow, we were having fun.
UEFA.com: Did you build a snowman?
Drogba: A snowman, yes. We could have put Sneijder there and covered him with snow, why not ...
UEFA.com: Did that result give you more confidence about the fact Galatasaray can beat any team?
Drogba: Maybe not anyone, but that game reassured us, because if we are focused, if we are well physically, then we can make it difficult for many great teams. We have shown that in the past, against Real Madrid last season, against Schalke. We have done it already and we will try to repeat it even better than in previous years.
UEFA.com: After that game you had a special celebration with Sneijder ...
Drogba: With Wesley I have a special relationship. We have often played against each other. But we have a lot of respect [for each other] and are true friends. I was happy to deflect the ball for him to score. We had a wager – he said he would score two goals, and when he scored and we qualified I was happy, but I told him he only scored once so it's useless!
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