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Didier Drogba’s reputation is inflated by goals we remember — what does this mean for his legacy?

The man for the big occasion, but not every occasion

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 cup finals in the same season.

His extra-time winner against Man United and a customary brace against Arsenal brought the FA Cup and League Cup to Stamford Bridge that season.

More importantly, Drogba secured his place in the club’s history; something he would cement in 2012, more on that later…

When it matters…

Getty Images - Getty
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When it matters…

Upon his retirement, there was much debate about legacy he would leave behind.

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.

We’re talking Premier League specifically

AFP
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We’re talking Premier League specifically

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 the other seven) leaves a little something to be desired for a player of his ability.

It almost goes without saying that he contributed in other ways.

His hold-up play is legendary and his physical attributes meant he occupied centre-backs at all times, causing problems and disruption even when he wasn’t involved in a specific move.

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.

Drogba, the goosebump inducer

Getty - Contributor
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Drogba, the goosebump inducer

As is always the case, stats only tell a portion of the story.

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 enhanced his reputation and plumped his legacy through memorable moments.

Our overriding memories of Drogba are not of him falling six or seven goals short of what we would expect in the majority of his Premier League campaigns.

To think of Drogba is to think of his unplayable prime and clutch goals of optimum drama and importance.

As close to immortality as football offers

PA:Press Association
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As close to immortality as football offers

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 hat-trick Drogba may have missed out on at home to Bolton, Hull or Portsmouth.

This means more to some players than trophies or records

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This means more to some players than trophies or records

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 in 2018.

“He was like an animal. His preparation, the intensity in his eyes, and then he always produced.”

No non-Spurs player has scored more goals at the new Wembley than Drogba

Times Newspapers Ltd
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No non-Spurs player has scored more goals at the new Wembley than Drogba

Former Arsenal captain William Gallas revealed that Philippe Senderos used to go to pieces when faced with the prospect of 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 fan would have preferred Drogba as a flat-track bully who scored 20 league goals every season but didn’t turn up in finals or derbies.

Traumatising for Gunners fans (and players)

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Traumatising for Gunners fans (and players)

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 era.

With your life in the balance, who else would you want leading the line?