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Page last updated at 05:59 GMT, Sunday, 19 April 2009 06:59 UK

Drogba is unlikely Chelsea hero

Drogba celebrates his goal that put Chelsea in the FA Cup final
Drogba celebrates his goal that put Chelsea in the FA Cup final

By Chris Bevan
BBC Sport at Wembley

Just three months ago, this season looked like being one to forget for Dider Drogba.

But now the Chelsea striker is threatening to make it the most memorable of his career.

The powerful Ivory Coast star capped an impressive display at Wembley on Saturday with a dramatic late winner to sink Arsenal and put his side into the FA Cup final.

He also found the net on Tuesday during an amazing 4-4 Champions League draw with Liverpool that saw Guus Hiddink's men progress to the semi-finals in Europe.

And Drogba's run of eight goals in nine games has even helped to give the third-placed Blues an outside hope of snatching the Premier League title too.

"Didier is amazing every week, in every game," Hiddink said after his side's Wembley win. "We have lots of games, every three or four days, but he is delivering every time.

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"A striker is measured by his goals - and he is scoring. But he works so hard that a player like him does so much for the team even when he is not."

Any sort of success seemed unlikely for Chelsea prior to interim manager Hiddink's arrival in mid-February but Drogba's part in the club's resurgence is remarkable in itself.

A niggling knee injury meant the 31-year-old started only three games before the end of October and then, when fit, he was second-choice behind Nicolas Anelka.

Even his first goal of the campaign, against Burnley in the League Cup on 11 November, brought him nothing but trouble - Drogba threw a coin into a section of Clarets fans while he celebrated and was punished with a three-game ban by the Football Association and a caution from the police.

Things did not get any better at the start of 2009 either and, when Chelsea's FA Cup run belatedly got up and running, Drogba was nowhere to be seen.

He had been dropped by Hiddink's predecessor Luiz Felipe Scolari following a 3-0 defeat by Manchester United the previous weekend.

So, although Drogba had played when Chelsea drew their third-round tie 1-1 with League One side Southend at Stamford Bridge, he did not even make the Blues squad when they beat the Shrimpers 4-1 in the replay 11 days later.

After being heavily linked with a move to rejoin his former Blues boss Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan during the January transfer window, Drogba did return to the side under Scolari, but his body language on the pitch seemed to suggest he was still discontented.

That all changed when Scolari was sacked.

And it is no coincidence that the upturn in Drogba's form since then has been matched by an improvement in his mood.

Drogba had an unhappy start to the season under Scolari
Drogba made an unhappy start to the season under Scolari

"I haven't seen him unhappy," added Hiddink, who has tasted defeat in only one of his 12 matches in charge of Chelsea. "I like to see my players work very hard but also to smile sometimes.

"But he was in a position where he was not playing frequently so of course he wasn't smiling."

Unsurprisingly, seeing as he had just scored the match-winner, Drogba cut a relaxed and cheerful figure after his side's Cup semi-final victory.

Speaking about the transformation in his season, the former Marseille striker told BBC Sport: "When I was left out, I was feeling low. It was not a good time.

"But now I am in very good form. I am really happy and I am working hard."

As the Gunners found out on Saturday, when Drogba is at full throttle, he is a difficult man to stop.

Full of industry in the first half, he did a brilliant job of leading Chelsea's attack as a lone striker even if the closest he came to scoring was when he beat Lucasz Fabianski to a long ball and saw his header hacked clear by Kieran Gibbs.

Drogba continuously consulted his manager, particularly after Arsenal took the lead, and also coaxed his team-mates on the pitch too.

For an often controversial figure who has acquired an unwanted reputation for going to ground too easily, he showed himself to be a formidable team player too.

I want players to concentrate on their main jobs - sometimes to do less is to be more productive

Guus Hiddink on getting the best out of Didier Drogba

His late winner, when he capitalised on another error of judgement by Fabianski, was a reward for a tireless display and his extravagant celebration showed exactly what it meant to him.

Drogba's ability is no secret - after all, since joining from Marseille for £24m in 2004 he has amassed 92 goals, won two Premier League titles, lifted the FA Cup once and the League Cup twice.

Hiddink is modest enough to admit that he has done nothing to make Drogba the player he is but hinted that he feels he has found a way of getting the most out of him - something Scolari never managed.

"I don't know about improving players since I have been here but I can do something in the way we practice and how I want them to play," explained Hiddink.

"I want players to concentrate on their main jobs - sometimes to do less is to be more productive."

To most observers, it appears that Drogba is actually doing more but - one way or another - it is certain that he has been given a new purpose in his career, one that promises to bring him and his club more silverware in May.



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see also
Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea
18 Apr 09 |  FA Cup
Saturday's football photos
18 Apr 09 |  Premier League
Drogba included in Ivorian squad
04 Feb 09 |  African
Inter dismiss Drogba speculation
15 Dec 08 |  Chelsea
Drogba stays at Chelsea - Kenyon
01 Dec 08 |  Chelsea
Drogba lost his football passion
30 Dec 08 |  African
Scolari backs Drogba in coin row
15 Nov 08 |  Premier League
Drogba banned for three matches
18 Nov 08 |  Chelsea


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