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Didier Drogba spent only 12 months at Olympique de Marseille but the impact of his stay was such that the Chelsea FC striker is anticipating a "fantastic moment" when he revisits the Stade Vélodrome on Matchday 6.
The Ivory Coast international scored 18 Ligue 1 goals, plus another 11 in Europe, for Marseille in 2003/04 after arriving from EA Guingamp – duly earning cult status with their fans. "It's going to be a fantastic moment," he said of his return. "
It's funny because I only played one year in Marseille but the feeling between the fans, the city, and me is unbelievable. I gave everything and they gave it back to me as well. They still love me and it's nice when I go there."
OM coach Didier Deschamps is also expecting a special reunion: "It will be very moving. Didier had just one year in Marseille but he's very attached to Marseille. I think he will come back here before the end of his career, he really wants that.
"The crowd love him for what he has done and he remains a great striker. The crowd is thankful for what he has done because even if Didier has been at Chelsea for six years now, he was always honest and always said Marseille was his club at heart."
Drogba's OM tally included five goals in the UEFA Champions League and six more in their subsequent run to the UEFA Cup final – not bad for his first season of European football. He remembers in particular the night when his double downed Newcastle United in the UEFA Cup semi-final. "The stadium was amazing. It was like La Bombonera [CA Boca Juniors' ground] in Argentina."
Drogba was already 26 when he joined Chelsea in July 2004 yet feels he has improved notably as a footballer in the six years since. "I think I've changed, because now I'm able to repeat [performance levels], like every three days. I'm more of a competitor. Before I needed maybe five, six chances to score a goal, now the ratio has come down, which means I've improved," explained the 32-year-old, who hit a career-high 29 league goals last term. "I think I can score more goals, and also maybe create more assists. Sometimes it's difficult to score so you need to help the team as much as you can. Creating assists is a big part of it."
Drogba, who also played for Le Mans UC 72 in France, could not have come closer to winning the UEFA Champions League. Witness three semi-final defeats and the 2008 final loss to Manchester United FC, when he was sent off. Has it become an obsession to triumph with Chelsea?
"I've said before that to win the Champions League is very important, but at the same time I know there are big players who haven't won it. Of course, because I am a competitor, I will do everything to win it. This is a competition I used to watch when I was younger – I used to watch and be happy to see players like Nicolas Anelka, for example, lifting the cup. So yes, that is something I want but it is not easy to win it."
Chelsea are the only side in this season's group stage with five straight victories – a feat they have managed without Frank Lampard. Drogba is looking forward to the imminent recovery of the midfielder, sidelined since August by a groin problem.
"What makes him special – he is just a very good professional and he is clever, very clever," said Drogba of Lampard's importance to the Londoners. "You can feel his frustration, he wants to play, he wants to help the team. And really he is the kind of player you can count on, because every season he will be there." Much like Drogba himself.
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