This feature is part of Duology
When discussing the driving force behind Chelsea’s charge to the top of the English football in the early beginnings of the 21sdt century, two components come to the lips of every seasoned football fan. The first is the bountiful pockets of Roman Abramovich and the second is the polarising genius of José Mourinho.
There is no doubt that Chelsea owes a lot of its success to both their wealthy Russian owner and their often-estranged Portuguese manager, but trophies cannot be bought and, though he might be among Chelsea’s most successful coaches, Mourinho’s spoils only account for a small portion of a near decade filled with silverware for the Blues.
At a club where money is spent so liberally, and managers boast all the staying power of England at a World Cup, it is the stars on the pitch that are the most decisive element of any winning team. Undoubtedly, few Chelsea players have been more decisive in this regard than Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard.
Frank Lampard was the first to arrive in London, making the short journey from Upton Park in 2001 for £11m. After a good, but forgettable start to his career at Chelsea, Lampard really began making a name for himself with the arrival of Mourinho in 2004. The self-proclaimed Special One had won the Champions League with Porto the previous season, on the back of a ruthless defence and clinical attack, and among Mourinho’s early signings at Stamford Bridge was one of the few forwards who was able to get one over his all-conquering European champions.
Didier Drogba’s goal against Porto did little to stop his own club, Marseille, from dropping out of the Champions League at the group stage, but his lethal touch did help the French side finish third, securing a UEFA Cup spot where the Ivory Coast international continued to impress Europe’s elite as he scored against Liverpool, Internazionale and Newcastle United in Marseille’s memorable run to the final. A 2-0 defeat to Valencia would prove a disappointing end to Drogba’s season but there was no shame in losing to newly crowned Spanish champions and his prowess had undoubtedly put the 26-year-old on the map.
It took Chelsea the princely sum of £40m to lure Drogba away from Les Phocéens and, no different than Lampard, he would prove an invaluable asset in the following season. Lampard and Drogba pitched in with near 30 goals between the two of them as Chelsea won the league in record manner, compiling the then-highest points total in Premier League history. Lampard finished as his club’s top goalscorer, with 19 in all competitions, including a goal against Bolton that would seal Chelsea’s first top-flight title in 50 years.
A League Cup victory over Liverpool, Drogba scoring the first of his many cup-winning goals in extra time, sealed a historic double for the Blues and only more success lied ahead. Lampard increased his goal tally to 20 goals in all competitions, 16 of those coming in the league campaign where Chelsea retained their crown. The English midfielder’s showings earned him a place amongst the game’s very best as he finished second in that year’s Ballon d’Or with only Ronaldinho between him and history.
The league slipped away from the duo the following season but the trophies continued to flow; an FA Cup and League Cup ensured that the Londoners didn’t finish empty-handed as Drogba finally outshone his counterpart in the goals department, finishing the season as the club top goal scorer with 33; 20 of those coming in the league to win his first Golden Boot. Drogba also proved crucial in Chelsea’s cup double, scoring a brace in the League Cup against local rivals Arsenal and combining with Lampard to capture the FA Cup against Manchester United at the season’s climax.
A rare exception to the three-season rule; things went sour for Mourinho’s Chelsea in his fourth season and he eventually departed in February, leaving Avram Grant to pick up the pieces. Chelsea discovered some late season form as they finished just two points off United in the league and reached the finals of both the League Cup and Champions League. Drogba became the first player to score in three different League Cup finals, though Chelsea couldn’t capitalise on his free-kick as they slipped to defeat against Tottenham.
A brace in the Champions League semi-final from the Ivorian forward, along with a late Lampard penalty, saw Chelsea down Liverpool to reach their first European final. They faced old foes and league champions, Manchester United, in the first all-English Champions League final.
After a tight opening half in Moscow, Cristiano Ronaldo’s firm header was swiftly cancelled out by Lampard’s equaliser. The game was still locked at 1-1 when the referee blew for full time and penalties beckoned, but not before Drogba got himself sent off after giving Vidić a slap in full view of the referee. The game finished level and an infamous John Terry slip ultimately cost the Blues dearly. As his team’s top scorer in Europe that season, Drogba would have surely felt that his red card helped decide the fate of the game.
Chelsea’s post-Moscow blues carried on into the following season as they coasted through another indifferent league campaign that featured three different managers. Naturally, though, Chelsea’s star pair ensured that the trophy cabinet at Stamford Bridge continued to bulge as another FA Cup was captured at the end of the season. After conceding the quickest goal in FA Cup final history, both Lampard and Drogba scored in a 2-1 win over Everton.
Following a string of underwhelming league campaigns, the Chelsea board opted to acquire the services of experienced Italian Carlo Ancelotti, hoping for him to manage the egos and return Chelsea to the summit of English football.
Ancelotti did just that, bringing out the best in both Drogba and Lampard as Chelsea stormed to a third Premier League crown, scoring a record 103 goals along the way, with nearly half of those coming from Drogba and Lampard as they both enjoyed what statistics remember as their best season in London. Drogba finished the season with 37 goals in all competitions, a club record for a player in a single season, in addition to another Premier League golden boot with 29 league goals.
His midfield partner scored an astounding 27 goals from midfield, as Ancelotti took full advantage of Lampard’s eye for goal, deploying him across central midfield and even, at times, as a shadow striker. A Drogba strike in that year’s FA Cup final against Portsmouth secured Chelsea first ever league and FA Cup double.
Ancelotti second season finished without a single piece of silverware and saw him replaced that summer by André Villas-Boas. Any hope that the young Portuguese manager would emulate his predecessor was short lived as Chelsea’s inconsistent league form finally came back to haunt them. Villas-Boas was sacked in March and replaced by Roberto Di Matteo, who failed to improve Chelsea’s league form and the Blues finished sixth, their lowest league finish since 2002.
Thankfully for Di Matteo, Chelsea’s cup runs distracted from their poor league campaign with particular attention focused on their Champions League run as Lampard and Drogba continued to show their European pedigree.
When Chelsea found themselves on the cusp of elimination, having lost away to Napoli 3-1, a 4-1 home win, with Drogba scoring the opener at Stamford Bridge and a Lampard penalty putting the Blues ahead on aggregate, eventually saw them through. Chelsea then passed a stern test in the quarter-finals against Benfica, after a 1-0 away win another Lampard spot kick in the second leg left Chelsea with one foot in the semi-finals before a late Raul Meireles counter-attack sealed a 2-1 win.
The Blues were then drawn with the near impossible task of knocking out the reigning Champions League winners Barcelona, who many fancied to become the first side in the Champions League era to retain the trophy. A stoic 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge, courtesy once more of the boot of Drogba, quickly crumbled into a 2-1 aggregate deficit as Sergio Busquets and Andrés Iniesta put hosts up before half-time in front of the adoring Camp Nou audience. For a change, Drogba and Lampard were absent from the scoresheet in Barcelona as Ramires and a dramatic goal from the oft-maligned Fernando Torres led Chelsea to their second Champions League final, four years after their defeat in Moscow.
Before travelling to Munich, Chelsea wrapped up yet another FA Cup with Drogba once again scoring the winner to become the first and only player to score in four different FA Cup finals. Chelsea then made the trek to Germany where they were once again faced with the impossible, denying Bayern Munich a long-awaited fifth Champions League title in their own backyard.
Evidently aware of the odds, Di Matteo instructed his team to sit back and defend, in hopes of once again snatching a goal, as they had done in the previous rounds. It seemed that the Italian’s lack of adventure would cost him as Thomas Müller’s bouncing header put the Bavarians in front with seven minutes to go. A corner in front of the Chelsea support offered the Blues one last chance to drag the match into extra time.
Naturally in cup finals, Drogba dashed to the near post to head home a late equalizer, his ninth cup final goal in as many games. The game entered extra time and it had seemed that once again a Drogba mistake would cost Chelsea after he conceded a penalty, only for Petr Čech to save the spot kick.
Once more, Chelsea faced the penalty lottery. Juan Mata missed the first for the Blues but every subsequent taker, including Lampard, were able to convert their spot-kicks following the Spaniard’s miss. Another penalty save from Čech, this time Ivica Olić the victim, put Chelsea back on level terms before Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the post with Bayern’s penultimate penalty. Drogba stepped to the spot, with the opportunity to win his team’s maiden Champions League, and naturally dispatched the kick; making Chelsea champions of Europe for the very first time.
That game would be Drogba’s last for the club for two years as he bounced around Europe before returning for a bit part role in Chelsea’s league and league cup double in 2014/15. By then Lampard had also moved on, having won a further Europa League title in addition to becoming the club’s all-time top-scorer in May 2013.
When you look at the CV of Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba you see a list of records and trophies a mile long. When Chelsea won their eighth FA Cup against Manchester United at the end of the 2017/18 season, it was their 17th title since Roman Abramovich bought the club and Drogba and Lampard helped the club to win 14 of those titles, 11 of them playing directly beside one another.
So often, it came down to a goal from one of the two to decide whether Chelsea’s season would be a success or a failure and they rarely disappointed, consistently dragging the Londoners to silverware amidst indifferent seasons and it was that restlessness, unquenchable will to win that ultimately defined both player’s legacies at the club as, together, they defined a decade of unprecedented Chelsea success.
By Kristofer McCormack @K_mc06
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp