By Matthew Spiro
Just two years ago he was playing in the French second division, but Didier Drogba's quick-fire hat-trick on UEFA Champions League Matchday 2 earned Olympique de Marseille a crucial 3-0 victory against FK Partizan and illustrated just how far the striker has come in a short space of time.
The Ivory Coast international, who moved to the Stade Vélodrome from EA Guingamp in the summer, had marked his European debut with a goal against Real Madrid CF in the Santiago Bernabéu two weeks earlier, and is now the tournament's top scorer with four strikes.
But despite his dramatic rise, Drogba is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. "
To score all three goals was great, but it was the team that earned the result - not me on my own," he told uefa.com, having become the first Marseille player to score a European hat-trick since Franck Sauzée more than ten years ago. "I'll savour the moment, but now I know what it feels like I'm more motivated than ever to work hard and ensure that we enjoy more nights like that."
Born in Abidjan in 1978, Drogba's recent emergence is all the more surprising as he struggled to shine during his early years at second division Le Mans UC 72. A modest return of 12 goals in 64 appearances was enough to earn him a move to Guingamp in 2002 and it was there that his incredible run started. Drogba scored 17 times in 34 matches in his first full season in the top flight, helping Guingamp to a seventh-placed finish.
"My target at the start of the season was to try to score more goals than last season," said Drogba, who has already scored six league goals this term. "I think that would be a great achievement because at Marseille there are lots of other guys who score, whereas at Guingamp it was mainly myself and Florent Malouda."
'Big step up'
The 25-year-old is relishing to the opportunity to display his skills on the European stage, but admits he was apprehensive at the start of the season. "
Joining Marseille was a big step up for me and I knew it would be very different to playing for Guingamp. At Guingamp there was this nice family atmosphere and we played without pressure. At Marseille we are expected to win every match."
'Not at my peak'
Drogba certainly showed he could handle the pressure on Wednesday, opening the scoring in front of 60,000 fans in the 62nd minute - the start of a 24-minute hat-trick. "Of course it was satisfying," he said. "It's not every day you score a hat-trick in the Champions League, but it's just one match.
I hope to continue scoring and, above all, continue improving my game because I don't think I'm at my peak yet."
His prolific form has led to comparisons with some great Marseille strikers of the past, but Drogba is reluctant to be drawn into such talk. "I don't know what to say when people make such comparisons," said the striker. "For me, guys like Sonny Anderson, Rudi Völler, Jean-Pierre Papin and Alen Bokšic are role models. I have a lot of respect for Josip Skoblar too but I never saw him play. If anything, I'd say my style is most similar to that of Bokšic."
Drogba evidently has quite an act to follow, but judging by the ovation he received after Wednesday's game, the Marseille fans believe that they have found a new goal hero to worship.
©UEFA.com 1998-2014. All rights reserved.