The Chelsea legend has a stunning legacy in Cup finals for Chelsea, but struggled to replicate the same on the internationals stage with Ivory Coast
Chelsea go into Saturday’s FA Cup final as clear favourites, seeking to scupper Leicester’s fairytale run and claim the first trophy of a potential May double.
If the Foxes are expected to muster any real resistance, it will come in the form and understanding of their front line.
Kelechi Iheanacho and Jamie Vardy have, over the last four months, synthesized a potent mix of guile and dynamism to not only fire Leicester to the cusp of cup success, but also to sustain their push for a finish within the Champions League places.
Chelsea, on the other hand, may actually find their Wembley ambitions hindered by a lack of proper certainty in attack.
Timo Werner offers willing running in behind, and Kai Havertz’s contributions to the Blues’ cause have steadily increased since Frank Lampard’s defenestration, but there remains a need for a proper presence upfront to turn Thomas Tuchel’s ball-dominant game style into goals.
It makes for an interesting change in dynamic for Chelsea, who over the last decade and half have typically been able to call upon a bomber upfront. In fact, Chelsea’s recent history at Wembley has come to be defined almost exclusively by the decisive contributions of the barreling Didier Drogba.
How Chelsea could do with a striker of his profile on Saturday!
As the only player in history to score in four FA Cup finals, the Ivorian became virtually synonymous with the Wembley showpiece, and forged a reputation as a player for the big occasion, the closest thing to a guarantee in a final setting.
Of course, nothing is ever that black and white. While Drogba’s eminence and legacy is, for many, cast in stone, even the perception of him as utterly dependable in finals did not always hold.
In fact, if one considers international football to be the pinnacle of pressure, underpinned as it is by the expectation of an entire nation, then the former Chelsea man’s crown and status begins to sit a little less easily on his now-shaven head.
While he so often proved the difference maker in finals at club level, his adventures in the colours of Ivory Coast were a little less glorious.
It would be reductive – and also unfair – to lay the underachievement of the Elephants’ Golden Generation at his feet alone. However, by the same token, it is impossible to absolve him completely, especially when, on a personal level, he underwhelmed when it came crunch time in the 2006 and 2012 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Against Egypt, he missed an open goal on 77 minutes after being set up by strike partner Arouna Kone, volleyed a back-post cross over the top while unmarked in stoppage time, and saw his penalty saved in the shoot-out that Ivory Coast went on to lose.
Against Zambia, he fluffed the chance to win the match in normal time, firing a 70th-minute penalty over the bar as Chipolopolo made history in Gabon.
If one excuses him on the grounds that Egypt went on to retain the Afcon title twice over, affirming their greatness, then how can one parse the failure six years on, when every index pointed to the Elephants as unmistakable favourites?
He just seemed to completely lose his composure in those key moments, playing the occasion rather than the match itself.
It may seem nit-picky, but it is all the more relevant both because that generation would ultimately fail to touch the sky, and for the very specific nature of Drogba’s failure.
Were it more diffuse, it could be chalked up to little more than variance.
As it is, it just serves to highlight the peculiarity of international football, especially as there do not appear to be any technical or tactical reasons for the dichotomy of output.
Even the man himself, asked to explain his miss in 2012, told the BBC he could not remember the moment specifically. “The only thing that I remember is that we lost the final,” he offered unconvincingly.
This is not to re-litigate Drogba’s legacy in terms of impact in finals. After all, 10 goals in 12 finals is impressive in its own right, only marginally less so than the oft-parroted “10 in 10”. What it does, though, is frame the great man within a more nuanced context: the king of the FA Cup final never quite hacked the Afcon in the same way.