Mourinho’s comments, captured by French station Canal Plus, have dominated the build-up to the last-16, first-leg tie, but it is Didier Drogba’s reunion on Wednesday night with the team he represented 341 times which ultimately has far more emotional pull. The sight of the Ivorian taking the field will only remind Chelsea fans that the club have never replaced the rampaging Ivory Coast striker.
Certainly, those present at the Champions League final in Munich in May 2012 will never forget one of the most extreme distillations of destiny seen on a football pitch when Drogba strolled up to take the final penalty in a shoot-out against Bayern Munich, in their very own Allianz Arena.
When the striker placed the ball in the opposite corner to Manuel Neuer deep into the Munich night, his final kick as a Chelsea player gave the club their first European Cup, ensuring a perfect conclusion to a wonderful career at Stamford Bridge that produced 157 goals, three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and two League Cups.
It was supposed to be the final chapter in his Chelsea story. Soon after the Munich final came confirmation of a move to China, where he would be fenced off from European football forever. Drogba was history to Chelsea; glorious, prolific, unforgettable history. Until a move to Gala of course, and then to December, when UEFA's Champions League draw once again showcased football's unerring ability to generate compelling subplots.
In a sport in which players returning to their former clubs are almost by ritual now forced into an empty muted celebration – the nadir of which came with Scott Sinclair’s ‘classy touch’ in 2012 against Chelsea, a team he started one Premier League game for – this will be one reunion laden with genuine emotion.
Chelsea supporters will relish revisiting old times with Drogba as much as Mourinho. During the 1-0 win over Everton in the Premier League on Saturday, a banner could be spotted in the Shed End at Stamford Bridge with the words: 'Drogba Legend'. It seems to have been resident at that part of the ground since their idol departed.
If Drogba was initially reluctant to leave Marseille for Chelsea, they quickly became the team of his life, and Mourinho the manager of his life. When the Portuguese left Stamford Bridge in 2007, Drogba was reduced to floods of tears. As remembered by Paulo Ferreira: “Jose came into the dressing room, gathered us all together and told us he was leaving. Didier was one of the worst affected. He wept like a child.”
“I had a great time at Chelsea. I was there eight years and if Jose Mourinho said 'I want you to come back' I'd think about it," said Drogba. "But there has been no approach from the club, so there is no need to speak about it. It is just rumours. I don't know. If it could happen, it would only be with one team. I could not play for anyone else in England.
After a rather tricky first couple of seasons in the Premier League – partly thanks to his propensity for a dive, which was highlighted when he went on the BBC and admitted to that most heinous of crimes, at least to British minds – Drogba became a regular match-winner for Mourinho, a player who was built for the big occasion.
In a separate interview this week, he said of his relationship with Mourinho: "It is a simple one. There is a lot of respect. When there is somebody that important, who looks at you like a friend, you forget that he is 'The Special One' and you are the striker.
"It is a man-to-man relationship, a friendship. These kind of moments are special, because they are very important, very precious. He was the one who helped me to make my decision to come to play for Chelsea. He was always fair with me. When I deserved to play, I played. When I didn't, I didn't. That is why I respected him so much."
It wasn't often that Drogba didn't deserve to play under Mourinho though, and while not particularly prolific - thanks to his rather patchy goalscoring form in certain seasons - his ratio of 0.46 goals per game for Chelsea is far superior to Mourinho’s current options in attack – Fernando Torres scores for the club at a rate of 0.27 goals per game, Demba Ba 0.23 and, admittedly from a far smaller sample size, Eto’o at 0.35.
Mourinho’s need for a striker of Drogba’s statue was evident even before the events of this week, and when he emerges from the tunnel at the Turk Telekom Arena in Gala’s orange and burgundy livery, Chelsea fans will be given an untimely reminder of how much they still miss him.
Tom Adams - @tomEurosport
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