Guess who’s back? Few would have imagined we would see him in the Champions League ever again after he turned his back on top-level football to go and play in China, but just nine months after leaving Chelsea, Didier Drogba is back in the big time.
The last kick Drogba had in the Champions League – and indeed, the last ever kick of an eight-year, trophy-laden spell at Stamford Bridge – was to bury the penalty that secured a first-ever Champions League title for Chelsea: a fitting end to a career in England during which Drogba was, at times, as good as any striker the Premier League had seen.
When the Ivorian announced days after that dramatic shoot-out win over Bayern Munich last May that he was to move for the money, sorry, the challenge of raising the profile of football in China, at the age of 34 few expected him back in the limelight of the European game.
But with his spell in China marred by rumours that the pot of gold may have been a mirage all along, Turkish champions Galatasaray have got themselves a coup by landing Drogba on loan from Shanghai and it has pumped added interest into their last-16 Champions League tie with German side Schalke.
And it’s not just Drogba, either, with Gala also securing the signature of former Inter Milan midfielder and fellow Champions League winner Wesley Sneijder, on a permanent deal, to give the Turks a real boost as they bid to go far in Europe.
You might question the hunger of Sneijder (a succession of Inter managers have since 2010, after all) but Drogba is a different story.
There was a feeling around Stamford Bridge that, even at 34, he still had plenty to offer and a goal and an assist within minutes of coming off the bench on his debut on Friday show he still means business.
You only have to look at the continued travails of Fernando Torres and the surprisingly ineffectual Demba Ba to see how much Chelsea miss him, but the Blues’ loss is Galatasaray’s gain and Drogba can shoot the Turks into a first-leg lead at the Telecom Arena.
Gala are even money to win, with both the draw and Schalke at 5/2, and as I fancy a home win, I’d rather take the 6/4 that Drogba scores at any time.
If this match was played a few months ago, I would be having a go on that 5/2 about Schalke, but the Germans have gone off the boil, winning just one of their last 12 matches and slipping to ninth in the Bundesliga – a far cry from the form that saw them win so impressively at the Emirates in November.
During that run, Jens Keller replaced the sacked Huub Stevens but he has won just one of six as the decline continues apace. By contrast, Gala are top of the Turkish Super Lig and have lost just two of their last 25 home league matches.
Their Champions League record is a bit sketchy, but with three wins on the trot they can take advantage of Schalke’s poor form and at 6/4, Drogba can be the man once again.