Even today they are a side that look incomplete without him leading the line. So far, none of his supposed successors have come close to truly replacing him but could a summer move for Zlatan Ibrahimovic finally fill the void?
As made clear by the fanfare and adulation that greeted Drogba upon his return to Stamford Bridge in March with Galatasaray, the Ivorian will always be far more to the Chelsea faithful than just being a scorer of vital, match winning goals. His presence and charisma on the field ensnared the affections of those in the stands and, at times, it seemed that his every touch or challenge carried with it a sense of irresistible weight, as if he was the personification of fate on the pitch.
This was never any truer than during his various cup final visits to Wembley or in the way he lead the charge the Champions League winning charge in his final season in blue.
If ever there was a player with the force of personality to fill those shoes, however, it would be Ibrahimovic.
At 32, the Swede would require Mourinho to 'Dare To Zlatan', especially given the fee Paris Saint-Germain would likely demand for his services, not to mention the striker’s own requirements in terms of wages and bonuses.
Yet, the relative success of Samuel Eto’o's Stamford Bridge cameo this year has shown the potential value in seeking out experienced campaigners from the manager’s previous successes outside of England. Ibrahimovic played under Mourinho at Inter, and while the striker may have departed before the Portuguese’s Italian treble-winning peak, he was still thought to be held in high regard by Mourinho, leaving only due to an incredible player-plus-cash offer by Barcelona that saw Eto’o go the other way.
Ibrahimovic's departure ultimately denied him a European title—the only major trophy yet to feature in this medal collection—but the striker has won nine of the last 10 league championships he’s played in with Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and PSG, a run stretching from the 2003-04 season to now.
While his two titles with Juve may have later been revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal, it’s still an incredible run, and testament to his winning mentality as a prolific and decisive goalscorer. He was also arguably the man that heaved PSG up into the upper echelons of European super club respectability, sending shockwaves across the continent when he switched to Ligue 1 in 2011. If Mourinho requires a talisman to spearhead the dawn of a new era at Chelsea, Ibrahimovic would be an obvious choice.
His mentality and perfectionism is matched by his build and abilities, too. Though it was always going to be difficult to find another No. 9 as complete as Drogba—a technically adept and hard-working target man who paired powerful physique with skillful finesse—the Swede is a unique and fitting contradiction of brawn and brilliance.
Standing at 1.95m, he has the reach and strength of the most brutal centre-forwards, allied to an uncanny swiftness and agility that seems unfeasible for a man of his size. A black belt in Taekwondo, he is exceptionally athletic, yet in a controlled rather than brutal manner, enabling him to unleash gravity defying flips, bicycle kicks (see: Sweden 4-2 England) and tricks to obliterate defences.
And with 97 goals in his last 125 league appearances, that’s exactly what Zlatan does. Yet, he's also an excellent provider of goals for his teammates.
Much like Drogba’s role in the 4-3-3 system employed by Mourinho during his first stint at Chelsea, Ibrahimovic could play the role of a high-class battering ram for the blues, occupying two centre-backs at a time to create overloads and opportunities for on-running midfielders and wide men in support.
Considering the current array of midfield talent at the club, a front man able to lead the line while producing chances for others could well transform the Blues into an unstoppable force once more, with the likes of Andre Schurrle and Eden Hazard ideal to cut in from wide to smash lay-offs into the back of an opponent’s net.
If he can make the finances work, and overcome concerns about Ibrahimovic’s age and longevity at the top of the game, then there are few players better equipped to augment Chelsea’s first team than the Swedish frontman.
The shadow of Drogba has hung heavy over all who have tried to follow him so far at Stamford Bridge, but Zlatan is no ordinary striker. Whether it’s through arrogance, ability or trophies, it’s unlikely he would struggle to forge his own legacy in West London, especially with the extra incentive of showing England just what they’ve been missing out on for so long.
- Sports & Recreation
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic
- Didier Drogba