Didier Drogba was the man for the big occasion.
The talismanic Ivorian scored nine goals in nine finals for Chelsea.
In 2006/07, he became the only player to ever score in both domestic finals in the same season.
His extra-time winner against Man United and a customary brace against Arsenal brought the League Cup and FA Cup to Stamford Bridge.
More importantly, Drogba secured his place in the club’s history; something he would cement in 2012, more on that later…
Inevitably, Drogba’s retirement has sparked debate about his legacy.
Our friends at talkSPORT debated long and hard about where he ranked in terms of the greatest overseas Premier League strikers.
Few would begrudge Drogba a mention in such discussions, but the pedant in me cannot resist highlighting the parameters.
In what I’ve always acknowledged as an unpopular opinion, I think Drogba can only be considered to have been a top-bracket Premier League striker in two of his nine seasons with Chelsea.
He was excellent in 06/07 and phenomenal in 09/10, scarily good in fact.
49 of his 104 Premier League goals came in those two seasons, leaving 55 goals from his other seven.
Most would agree an average of just under eight league goals per season (for other seven) leaves a little something to be desired for a player of his ability.
Obviously, he contributed in other ways.
His hold-up play is legendary and his physical attributes meant he occupied centre-backs at all times.
However, it is also fair to say that his team-mates often felt it was best to limit the number of long balls into his feet, preferring more subtle routes to goal.
Stats only tell a portion of the story of course.
After all, football is an emotional game that stirs us and captures our hearts.
In this regard, there are few better than Drogba.
As the man who stepped up time and time again when the pressure was at its most demanding, he has enhanced his reputation and plumped his legacy.
Our overriding memories of Drogba are not of him falling four of five goals short of what we would expect in seven of his nine Premier League seasons.
To think of Drogba is to think of his unplayable prime and clutch goals of optimum drama and importance.
Most Chelsea fans would trade every single one of his 104 league goals to preserve his 88th-minute header against Bayern Munich in the Bavarians’ back garden.
Because while every goal counts for the same on paper, we all know some are more important than others.
And a Champions League final equaliser to set up the most important victory in Chelsea’s history is infinitely more important than any goal Drogba may have missed out on at home to Bolton, Hull or Portsmouth.
Sergio Ramos and Andres Iniesta both have reputations as big-game players; but for many, Drogba is the ultimate.
“Didier in the dressing room before a big game was a different Didier,” Frank Lampard told Copa 90 last year.
“He was like an animal. His preparation, the intensity in his eyes, and then he always produced.”
Former Arsenal captain William Gallas revealed that Philippe Senderos used to go to pieces in the build-up to facing Drogba.
“I saw him against Chelsea, against Didier Drogba,” Gallas said, “where he would genuinely panic, like he was going through his match before playing it.
“And unfortunately, when you saw him on the pitch, he lost his playing abilities, he didn’t play well.”
Drogba’s merciless annual masterclasses against one of Chelsea’s fiercest rivals further endeared him to the Stamford Bridge faithful.
No Chelsea would have preferred if Drogba were flat-track bully who scored 20 league goals every season but didn’t turn up in finals or derbies.
Stats ultimately last longer than memories but for as long as this generation is alive, Drogba will always be considered one of the very best of his generation.
With your life in the balance, who else would you want leading the line?
- Brahim Diaz’s imminent exit means it’s Phil Foden or bust for Man City
- How Andre-Villas Boas went from Porto’s invincibles to rally driving in Peru
- Here’s how PSG would look if they implemented Thiago Motta’s borderline insane tactical plan