As an American sports fan, my obsession with fútbol is only rivaled by my obsession with football. Here, another team I have supported for years — decades, actually — that sports blue and white, also recently said goodbye to a legend. When the Indianapolis Colts released their longtime, certified Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning this spring, it was as much a celebration of everything he gave the franchise as it was an emotional, unfathomable goodbye.
And now, I’m getting déjà vu as Chelsea says “so long” to Didier Drogba.
The contributions these two figures made to their respective clubs are similar — they came in with big expectations, lived up to them and propped their teams up for success that hadn’t been seen in decades. In the case of Manning, a Super Bowl win, two conference championships, seven division titles, and status as a regular contender. For Drogba, a UEFA Champions League title, three league titles, four FA Cups, and two Carling Cups.
They also were alike in that they never shirked from the big moment, instead, rising to the occasion when it mattered most. Manning made countless comebacks and put up huge numbers as the team was built around him. Drogba…well, just see the end of this season for a brief synopsis of what he has done throughout his eight seasons at Chelsea.
However, there are two major differences. One: Manning left, somewhat unceremoniously, after missing the last season with a neck injury and his team slumped to a NFL-worst and caused the franchise to embark on a rebuilding project. Drogba left at the top after dragging Chelsea back into the Champions League match against Bayern Munich before demanding the last spot kick and converting it to win the most coveted trophy of all.
And two: They differed on the amount of impact they had on me. I had been following the Colts long before Manning arrived. But as I began to watch and fully understand soccer, Drogba immediately caught my attention. He was the player to watch and the way the team played won me over. I mean, the first soccer shirt I ever owned had his name and number on it.
From a neutral’s standpoint, his power, pace, and ruthlessness in front of and bearing down on goal was a spectacle. A “big man forward,” he mastered the art of holding up the ball, heading, and shooting with power and precision. My favorite example of Drogba’s unique combination of skills are the chest down, touch, turn and vicious shot he put into the roof of the net against Tottenham Hotspur in this season’s FA Cup semifinal. It combined everything I love about soccer — finesse, power, and the unexpected.
More importantly, as a Chelsea fan, you knew you could rely on him. You knew that if given the chance when it mattered most, of course it would be Drogba (even my wife, who I forced to watch the Champions League Final, gathered enough about the club and player to say “Of course it has to be Drogba,” as he approached the spot for the final penalty). When all seemed lost, he rescued our hopes. He gave us belief.
And you knew you would be entertained, whether it was a goal like the one mentioned above or if it meant him rolling around on the ground when someone brushed up against him.
As hard as it was to come to grips with Manning ending his career at another NFL team, I find it equally as hard to picture Drogba not lining up at Stamford Bridge next season.
The silver lining is that Manning, 36, also proved that an aging superstar could begin again (he signed with the Denver Broncos), just as Drogba, 34, showed at the end of this season that he still has plenty left in the tank to offer a team, somewhere.
And even though they’re not still wearing blue and white, I wish them both well.