Didier Drogba: Galatasaray striker on his Chelsea love affair
Didier Drogba is, by his own admission, a dreamer.
As a boy, he watched Diego Maradona lift the World Cup and dreamed of doing the same. As a 16-year-old, he watched Ajax beat the mighty AC Milan to win the Champions League from his home in Abidjan and let himself imagine what it might be like to get his hands on that trophy.
Throughout his career, a sense of destiny has followed him from Ivory Coast to Istanbul, via Marseille, an incredible night in Munich and eight years in the blue of Chelsea. The latest twist is no different.
"Are Chelsea better than Galatasaray? Yes, they are 10 times better," the Galatasaray striker, now 35, says as we begin to discuss the impending reunion with his old club in the last 16 of the Champions League.
"If I play it is to win. It will be tough but Juve were better than us, so anything can happen. If there's a 1% chance of us winning. I'll believe it."
We meet on a cloudless afternoon on the outskirts of Istanbul.
Drogba greets me with a warm smile and the kind of handshake you would expect from this wrecking ball of a centre forward. He may not speak the language, but in Turkish there is a special tense for dreams and, as he begins to speak, it is clear he may as well be using it as he considers the reality of playing against a club with whom he is intrinsically associated. Will he be able to keep his emotions in check?
"It will be difficult," he says. "You don't stay eight years in a place you don't like, especially in football - it is very emotional. I love Chelsea but I play for Galatasaray now and I will give everything for them."
Drogba retains the same passion, almost two years after scoring the most significant goal in Chelsea's history to secure a first Champions League trophy.
He fiddles with his black cloth flat cap as he recalls a gallery of memories from his time at Stamford Bridge. Of 157 goals in 342 games, three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and that winning penalty against Bayern Munich - his last kick in a Chelsea shirt - in the Champions League final.
"When you're happy at a club, you want to stay forever," said Drogba, who joined Chelsea from Marseille for £24m in July 2004. "But sometimes you can't do everything you want to do. I am proud of what I achieved."
And yet he has begun a new love affair in Turkey. Standing below the minarets of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, his name is greeted with adulation. His contract ends this summer and before he decides anything, he will give the Turkish giants the chance to keep him.
"I will study every offer in the summer," he says. "But I will look at the one from Galatasaray because they gave me a chance to play again at a high level and I'll see what is on the table. I want to win, not just to play, but to play to win. I know it is a bad habit."
There has been no contact from Chelsea, as yet, but could he ever rule out the possibility of going back, of a reunion with Mourinho? "They say in French 'avec des si. Rome ne s'est pas construite en un jour' [there are lots of ifs. Rome wasn't built in a day]. It is only if and if and if. We are not there yet."
The conversation takes place in a sunlit room overlooking the first-team training pitch inside Galatasaray's walled training ground. Armed guards patrol the pathways around the complex and, passing through the vast gated entrance, you are immediately confronted by a vast image of the club celebrating their victory over Arsenal in the Uefa Cup final on penalties in 2000.
Drogba led the club to the title in his first season, helping them reach the knockout stages of the Champions League, where they lost to Real Madrid.
This season, the success has continued and victory over Juventus in the group stages secured a place in the last 16 for a second successive season and the chance to let fate pair him with Chelsea.
Didier Drogba's Chelsea record
- Debut: v Manchester United, 15 August 2004
- First goal: v Crystal Palace, 24 August 2004
- Appearances: 342
- Goals: 157
- Honours : Premier League: 2004-05, 2005-06, 2009-10; FA Cup: 2006-07, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2011-12; League Cup: 2004-05, 2006-07 Champions League: 2011-12
- Premier League top goalscorer: 2007, 2010
Drogba's jet black Italian supercar sits outside the building where the players eat and relax. Manager Roberto Mancini appears but does not linger long and flashes a wry smile as he spots the British media. His assistant, Tugay, is more animated. But watching Drogba train, it is clear the Ivorian feels at home here, feels wanted and appreciated.
He describes Mancini as a "great coach" when asked to compare the former Manchester City manager with Mourinho. "They're very different, two different personalities but with the same mentality. They want to win, they want to win trophies. They are winners. "
He remains close to Mourinho. Texts were exchanged after the draw, but Drogba says that has stopped now. "He's concentrating," Drogba says with a smile.
How would he describe 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."
When I ask him if he considered his own future when Mourinho left Chelsea in 2007, Drogba shoots straight back. "Yes I did.
"When you are young and emotional you react straight away and later you end up realising it was not the right thing. Maybe I'd have dealt with it differently today, but I was affected because the man who believed in me was leaving. It was normal."
This is a more mature Drogba. He is considered, calm and charming. "I still want to win games, still want to win the Champions League, I still want to win trophies. The only difference is there is more experience, I am more in control of what I do on the pitch, more in control of my emotions."
Does he regret certain high-profile incidents? "That was me. There are a few things I regret: one is over-reacting against Barcelona. When I saw how that story went around the world I realised it was not the best. But it was me. I can actually understand why I was so emotional."
There will be no shortage of emotion at Turk Telekom Arena, Galatasaray's home for the past three years. At the site of Istanbul's infamous Ali Semi Yen stadium, once European football's most intimidating venue and home to those 'welcome to hell' banners, construction workers and cranes provide the soundtrack these days.
This is the new Galatasaray, led by Mancini, Drogba, Wesley Sneijder and Brazilian midfielder Felipe Melo. The old stadium may have gone but the intensity remains. Chelsea will feel the full effect on Wednesday, as well as the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul.
This cosmopolitan city bridges the divide not only between Europe and Asia, across the mighty Bosphorus, but also between two worlds. For Drogba, the parallels are hard to ignore. Now he must hope his dreams can, once again, come true.