For Didier Drogba, the year 2012 virtually ended in May at the Allianz Arena when his penalty kick sealed Chelsea’s mighty comeback victory over Bayern Munchen in the UEFA Champions League. That game alone rounded up a terrific and eventful season for the striker.
What happens far away in China, at Shanghai Shenhua, is of very little importance for the public now. Contractual issues have overshadowed his form on the pitch. His eight goals and two assists in 11 matches so far seem to sum up the general opinion in one line:
Didier Drogba has not lost his scoring touch and he still the same player that led Chelsea to FA Cup and Champions League glory at the end of the 2011/12 club football season. That said, speculations about a return to Europe for Drogba are strong in the media and pundits have tipped the 34-year-old Ivorian football star to achieve more success despite his age.
However, if we roll back the months and re-live the 2012 African Cup of Nations, can one look onto Didier Drogba as the perfect striker and undisputed hero? The fact that the former Chelsea man could not guide Cote d’Ivoire to their second African crown is not the biggest issue; the way in which he failed to do so is.
The skipper had his ups and downs during the Black Continent’s most prestigious football tournament but his three goals on the road to the Grand Finale instilled hope in the hearts of Ivory Coast’s population divide by politics but united through football.
The Ivorian press portrayed the 2012 AFCON as the last chance for the country’s celebrated generation of superstars to win the coveted trophy. Among all the players in the team, supporters and the media singled out Didier Drogba for higher responsibilities.
Unfortunately for the sorry Elephants, the then-Chelsea forward displayed an under-par performance against Zambia in the final. Worst of all, he missed a potential winning penalty kick in normal time. The match eventually went all the way to spot kicks and the Chipolopolo of Zambia gunned down the Elephants of Ivory Coast.
Instantly, Didier Drogba turned into his nation’s public enemy. Hate messages from disheartened and angry Ivoirians stormed the local press and forums. In fact, success in club football became Drogba’s only chance for redemption.
However, at the time the two-time African Player of the Year returned from the 2012 AFCON defeated, Stamford Bridge was not a safe refuge. It took the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas for Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment to turn the tables around. After that major change, the Blues had to change their attitude and Didier Drogba certainly made an impact.
The pride of African football talent set a new record by becoming the first ever player to score in four different English FA Cup finals. In the UEFA Champions League, his heroic feats against Napoli, Barcelona and also Bayern Munich drove the negative-minded Blues to glory.
“In all their very important matches he has put a stamp on it,” Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola told the press as he talked about Drogba’s impact for the Londoners this year.
The same can probably not be said about the Elephants’ captain at national level. In most important matches for Cote d’Ivoire, Didier Drogba has been in the news for rather bad reasons.
Looking at the balance between the 34-year-old’s cup double success with Chelsea and sour 2012 AFCON adventure, what will be the fairest judgement at the 2012 CAF Awards on December 20? Should Didier Drogba dethrone English Premier League champion Yaya Toure and scoop his third CAF African Footballer of the Year award?
And while pundits expect the gong to keep its Ivoirian tag, one may ask if there is any chance for an upset by Cameroon and Barcelona defender Alexandre Song?