Jim White

Mourinho’s next signing can win Chelsea the title

Jim White

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What a signing Jose Mourinho is about to make for Chelsea. The man responsible for the single most important kick in the club’s history looks as if he is about to make a return. A free agent after his contract at Galatasaray expired, Didier Drogba, whose winning penalty in Munich brought the biggest trophy in club football to Stamford Bridge, seems to be heading back to his spiritual home. If he puts his name to a new contract, it could prove the single most significant piece of transfer business the club undertakes this summer. It could be the signing that wins a title. If nothing else, after the failed experiment of attempting to go through an entire season without any one capable of putting the ball in the net, it will make a change for Chelsea to have a proper striker on the books.

What Mourinho will not be recruiting is someone who will play in every game. Drogba is now 36. A man of enviable fitness and physique he may be, but his age precludes any thought he might be available for two fixtures a week across the next nine months. Like the well-cellared vintage he is, Drogba will be a resource brought out on special occasions, a celebratory tipple rather than a table wine. The odd Champions League game here, a sporadic appearance in the Premier League there, a lot of time spent on the bench watching the action looks his immediate future. Let’s just put it this way: he is unlikely to feature in the early stages of the League Cup.

So what exactly is the point of bringing him on board if his contribution is, by definition, likely to be sporadic? If he can’t be relied upon to be there twice a week in the heat of battle, why would he be remotely of value?

Mourinho clearly believes that the influence the player will bring to bear on Chelsea will largely be felt behind the scenes. For sure the odd winning goal in vital matches would be nice. But mainly what Drogba will be doing is demonstrating to he rest of a developing squad the daily habits of a serial winner. With Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole departing, Chelsea are short of those who might influence the younger elements. In his approach, his preparations, his focus Drogba will be providing constant, compelling evidence of what is required to remain on top.

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Because Drogba is a magnificent example to any young player. Oscar, for instance, apparently broken as Brazil crashed out of the World Cup can only benefit from training alongside someone who knows how to handle the vicissitudes of footballing fortune. On more than one occasion – think his meltdown in the Champions League semi-final defeat to Barcelona - Drogba looked as if he was about to implode. That he came back to strike the winning penalty in the same competition three seasons later is testament to his powers of mental recovery.

A hugely intelligent individual, Drogba will be a brilliant lieutenant to Mourinho, a reinforcer in the dressing room of all the messages the manager is trying to convey. The Portuguese is already a master of communication and man management, but even the best can use some assistance. Drogba will be that, ensuring by presence and example that instruction is fulfilled.

Indeed Mourinho hinted as to Drogba’s future direction when he was asked about the potential signing this week.

“People say I need an assistant,” he said, with a smile. Not formally in title, maybe. But essentially that is what he will be.

In many ways, Drogba will be serving the kind of role undertaken by Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in the latter days of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. Although only bit part players, they were the embodiment of the soul of the club. For Ferguson they were an invaluable presence, dripping with the authority of achievement. True, they played a rather less than benevolent role under Ferguson’s successor, not so much benign influence as the spectre at David Moyes’s feast. But Drogba, forever Mourinho’s most significant signing at Chelsea, will not be arriving with any intention or expectation of undermining his boss. He will be there to reinforce and accentuate everything the main man says.

For sure, conventional wisdom insists that when it comes to employment – and personal relationships – you should never go back. Second time around is never as good. But Drogba would be returning to west London under completely different circumstances from when he first signed a decade ago. Back then he was the youthful spearhead of something new. Now he is the grizzled reminder of something past. But it is as important a role. And if nothing else, seeing the old hero warming up on the touchline will send a somewhat more significant frisson of optimism through the Stamford Bridge crowd than would be the case watching Fernando Torres taking his tracksuit off.

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