Didier Drogba is, no doubt, a polarising figure. To many, he is the embodiment of Chelsea's attack, an always-lethal power capable of turning up in big games and standing them on his head. To others, he's inconsistent, sulky and something approaching embarrassing based on his on-field antics. Personally, I stand somewhere in between. Drogba's an excellent player and one whose off-field work (i.e. stopping a civil war and building hospitals in Africa) mitigates the fact that he can act like a child on the pitch, but he is also inconsistent and he's also getting up there in age.
There'll come a point soon that Didier Drogba leaves Stamford Bridge. That's not necessarily this summer, but there are some good reasons for him to be moved on before September. There are also many very good reasons he should be kept on. In light of recent rumours connecting the Ivorian to both Galatasaray and Olympique Marseille, let's take a look at both sides of the story.
Reasons To Sell Now
Contract situation. Regardless of his merits as a footballer, it's impossible to ignore the fact that Drogba has just one year left on his current contract with Chelsea. He commands huge wages which he may or may not still merit, but the Blues would be unwise to offer him an extension to his deal that's anything but a major paycut. Regardless of any planned summer spending sprees, Chelsea still need to fit in with UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules at some point and making a bad wage situation even worse would not be a good idea.
If Chelsea don't sell now, they'll be looking at Drogba's probable departure at the end of the 2011/12 season as some other club tries to make a splashy signing, and will receive zero compensation as a result. Update: The Guardian are now reporting that Chelsea are set to enter negotiations for a one-year extension to Drogba's contract, although it's not clear how much he'd make a week under the extension. With Drogba's value estimated at between £10-15M right now (plus the ~£6M saved in salary), it makes economic sense to move the big man on now.
- Fernando Torres. Chelsea splashed out £50M on the Spain striker in the January transfer window, and while that move looks silly now there's still some hope of El Nino coming good. That task will be made much harder by the presence of Drogba - forcing Torres into unfamiliar shapes to accomodate both strikers won't help him find his form, and neither with a squad rotation policy. Torres costs far too much to be sat on a bench, and he needs to get as much playing time as possible to get back on his feet.
Declining form. Although malaria may be to blame for much of Drogba's poor 2010/11 season, it certainly can't account for all of it. On a team that needed him to be at his very best all season, Drogba failed to come through, and if that's the first sign of his age catching up to him, he may no longer be a first-choice Chelsea player. If that's the case, he'd be better off elsewhere, with Turkey and France both reasonable destinations where he might still excel.
Reasons To Retain
Loyalty. Drogba came to Stamford Bridge in 2004 and has been a mainstay at the club ever since. The man has led Chelsea to three Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and two League Cups, making for more than one trophy a season since he's arrived. Even better, he's been instrumental in games that have mattered (the Champions League aside), turning up in the biggest matches and wreaking havoc on the bewildered opposition.
Drogba, in other words, represents one of the greatest talents on the greatest team Stamford Bridge has ever seen. You simply don't unceremoniously discard players like that.
- Leadership. Andre Villas-Boas is re-forming Chelsea's core, the successors to the great side the Jose Mourinho constructed. But simply bringing in new players isn't good enough to build a dynasty, because when fresh faces come to SW6 they're not much more than mercenaries. Turning them into proper Chelsea players takes guidance from older, highly-respected players, and amongst the world's young attacking talent there are few who wouldn't look up to Drogba as a genuine role model. His continued presence will greatly ease the transition from the ghost of Mourinho's side to Villas-Boas' while maintaining some sense of a Chelsea identity.
- False Decline? It's not entirely clear that Drogba is, in fact, getting much worse. He was playing phenomenally well at the start of the season and that run didn't stop until he contracted malaria in October. The rest of his season was stop-start, but a) malaria and b) it must have been extraordinarily hard to play for a Chelsea side who were so poor by their lofty standards. Since Drogba started playing top-level football at a relatively advanced age, it's not difficult to imagine that he might also hit the downslope later than most, and his power isn't going away anytime soon. So, it's not clear whether his poor patch was a blip or the start of something, and Chelsea would look really stupid if they sold him for peanuts and it turned out to be a blip.
All in all, it's possible to make convincing, coherent arguments one way or another here. We're obviously not in full possession of the facts, but my suspicion is that the team will let Drogba himself make the call. If he wants to go, he'll go, and if he doesn't he's more than welcome to stay on. Economically, this doesn't make much sense, but there are some things more important than the bottom line, and doing right by a man who's done so much for the team is, in my opinion, one of them.