Chelsea FC forward Didier Drogba has a record of a goal every other game in the UEFA Champions League, and shows no signs of easing up. For defenders he is a nightmare; for the London club's fans he is a dream. In an exclusive interview with Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, the Stamford Bridge front man talks about his development and influences.
José Mourinho, who brought the striker to Chelsea in 2004, describes Drogba as "one who never gives up. Technique-wise, he can do anything a striker needs to do in the last 20 metres – he's good in the air, uses his body well and scores in decisive moments." In short, the complete centre-forward.
Drogba says: "It's an honour to be seen as the modern centre-forward. Football has changed. You need to be quick, to repeat runs, play many games. I think fitness is the key. I've seen games in different leagues and you can see there have been changes. Strikers have to defend, not only be scoring goals, and create goals. Now most teams play 4-3-3, the objectives of the striker have changed."
Drogba is already Chelsea's sixth most prolific goalscorer of all time, with Blues great Peter Osgood, who scored 150 goals, firmly in his sights. He has become the finished article because, like most top sportsmen, he has learned whatever he could from whoever he could wherever he has played. "Now I can play more games, every three days, and I'm more of a competitor than I was. Before I needed maybe five or six chances to score, now the ratio has gone down."
Drogba's quality as a player is not just about scoring goals. He creates them too, and his single-mindedness is usually put at the service of the team. The club have recognised that by making him one of the non-official captains. As Mourinho said: "
Drogba does not need an armband to show he is a leader."
Drogba's football education has not all been on the pitch and training ground. Take, for example, his brilliant – but supposedly weaker – left foot. "Diego Maradona was a genius," says the 32-year-old. "I saw him play with his left foot and the ball was always close to his foot, it was amazing. He helped me to work on my left because I wanted to be like him."
He has honed his fearsome free-kicks by studying one of his most gifted contemporaries. Powerfully struck set-pieces are, Drogba admits, his favourite kind of goal. "I learned a lot watching Juninho [Pernambucano] at Lyon. His technique was very interesting because the ball wasn't spinning as it usually is. The ball going straight forward is the best way to score a goal. I worked on this. It took me time, but now I feel I've started to get it."
Andriy Shevchenko's injury-hit spell at Chelsea was hardly the highlight of the Ballon d'Or winner's career, yet Drogba reckons he is a better player for watching the Ukrainian, who has scored 57 goals in the UEFA Champions League. "I learned a lot from Shevchenko. He was, and is still, a great player. He is one of the best scorers in the Champions League. Playing with him, he was very calm. I learned to be calmer and quieter on the pitch, and wait for the ideal moment to score."
He admits to learning, too, from the defenders he trains with. "It's difficult to play against John Terry, he's a strong defender. Since I've been playing against Terry, Ricardo Carvalho, Alex and Branislav Ivanović, all these big central defenders, I've improved a lot and adapted. It's difficult, but nice."
If you are good but determined to be great it cannot hurt to have worked under such illustrious coaches as Carlo Ancelotti, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Guus Hiddink, Mourinho and Luiz Felipe Scolari. Drogba has taken one lesson to heart: "I learned you don't win just by going on the pitch, you need to prepare the game, work on the opponent, work tactically and be ready. It's the most important thing I learned from them.
Playing against a fourth division team or in the Champions League final, you must have the same respect, prepare the same way, be a competitor and try to win."
Read the article in full in the latest edition of Champions.
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