Of course, we all knew there was a reasonably good chance of the big man leaving the club with his contract set to expire and rumours of a £250,000-a-week offer having been made to him by big-spending Chinese outfit Shanghai Shenhua but it always seemed like an issue that would work itself out with him staying in London. This was not the first time his future at Stamford Bridge had been called into question with several summers over the past eight years having seen rumours abound that he was destined for pastures new.
Drogba’s time at Chelsea can be seen as nothing other than an unqualified success, despite a tricky start. He encountered difficult times initially in England not least due to his penchant for the theatrical side of the game which drew criticism even from the Stamford Bridge faithful. To his credit, he managed to rein in some of the amateur dramatics reserving them only for when his team mates really needed it, most notably the first leg of this year’s semi-final against Barcelona when his momentum killing tumbles bought the defence time to regroup.
His relatively low profile in this country prior to his £24m transfer from Marseille in 2004 meant that much was heaped upon young shoulders and the sprinkling of goals rather than the expected torrent set some questioning his value. However, the Ivorian dispelled any doubts in his debut season with a barnstorming display against Bayern Munich in the quarter-final of the Champions League in which he utilised his immense strength to the team’s advantage for the first time. It was a side of his game that would go from strength to strength together with his goal output and once he had coupled each of those key strands of talent, he became the complete striker and arguably the best orthodox centre-forward of the last 20 years. Drogba won the Premier League Golden Boot on two occasions while lifting the title itself three times. Four FA Cup wins – with a goal in each final – together with his match-winning performance in Munich underline just what an immense contributor he has been to the most successful period of Chelsea’s existence.
It will be strange to the see the new season start without reading ’11 - Didier Drogba’ on the back of the matchday programme but it is impossible to begrudge him the manner of his departure having reached the very summit of football’s dreams in the most eye-catching way possible.
Drogba is not the only one leaving the club this summer with compatriot Salomon Kalou also seeking a new employer. Kalou has always divided opinion among supporters due to his tendency to take the wrong option when in a potentially game-changing situation but he has had his moments in a Chelsea shirt. Remember it was him whose actions at first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Anfield in April 2008 prompted John Arne Riise to put through his own net and give the Blues a precious away goal that would ultimately prove pivotal to reaching the final.
Jose Bosingwa is another to be leaving west London and it almost seems like a shame now that he appears to have rediscovered some semblance of form. The Portuguese right back was excellent upon signing from Porto in 2008. Unfortunately a season long injury in the following campaign meant that he never rediscovered the verve of his early days at the club and while he has frustrated fans in the last couple of years, he will always be remembered as part of the team that won club football’s biggest prize.
The departure of this trio opens doors for others to shine which is why it was so desperately disappointing to read those comments from Fernando Torres about his uncertainty since moving to Chelsea 18 months ago. His complaints may not have been a surprise and perhaps he will be given credit for speaking his mind rather than hiding behind the media training thrust upon all footballers these days but the timing of those words – uttered in the bowels of the Allianz Arena shortly after THE trophy was won – was tactless and unnecessary. It was stranger still as his celebrations on the pitch in Munich were as wild as any other player, hugging Drogba as if his life depended on it and joining the bonkers David Luiz in climbing onto the crossbar in front of the Chelsea fans.
On the plus side it showed his determination to succeed and now with the considerable shadow of Drogba having been removed from his path, hopefully we will now see the very best of the £50m man.
Torres’ success will be all the greater now that the signing of Eden Hazard has been confirmed. The Belgian trickster has skill and pace in abundance and together with Juan Mata and Marko Marin, our Spanish striker will be feasting on the very best service next season. Hazard has flirted with just about every club over the past few months but he has announced on Twitter that he is "signing for the Champions League winner" though the small matter of a transfer fee – around £30m – is yet to be agreed with his club, Lille.
With a potential line-up consisting of Torres, Mata, Marin, Hazard, Lampard and Ramires, next season should see a serious effort towards regaining the Premier League title. And who knows, perhaps another chapter will be written with Chelsea becoming the first team to retain the Champions League.
Dreaming? Possibly, but then we weren’t supposed to win this season. It’s a funny old game, after all.
You can read more of Phil's opinions at ShoutyAndSpitty.com or on Twitter @PhilLythell