Didier Drogba has paid tribute to the inspirational way Chelsea team mates Frank Lampard and John Terry helped turn his career around after suffering some difficult times in his early days at Stamford Bridge.
The powerful Ivorian striker, signed in a big-money deal from Olympique de Marseille 11 years ago, was frequently criticised by reporters for the theatrical way he would go to ground but he said Lampard and Terry made him clean up his act.
“I’m very proud because I managed to push things and also that I learned from my mistakes,” Drogba told Reuters in an interview, his relationship with the media turning full circle on Sunday night when he was honoured by the Football Writers’ Association for his outstanding contribution to the game.
“I tried to learn the culture in order to know them (the media) better, to change. I needed to change the way they were looking at me because it was not the real Didier so I was really sad.
“But I’m really happy because now they know who I am. They know I’m passionate and when I do things I give all my heart.
“Being around players like Frank and John and to see the way Frank was dealing with the press, always clean, a gentleman, I think it helps. You have to take it as an example and for me he was a big example.”
Drogba scored 157 goals in 342 appearances in his first spell at Chelsea, scooping up silverware along the way.
He left in a blaze of glory by scoring the equaliser in normal time and then the penalty shootout winner when the Londoners landed their maiden Champions League title in 2012 against Bayern Munich at the German club’s Allianz Arena.
After short spells in China and Turkey, Drogba made an emotional return when he signed a one-year contract with Chelsea at the start of the season.
While he was returning, his great friend Lampard was leaving, the club’s all-time record goalscorer signing a permanent deal with New York City before going out on loan to Manchester City.
The former England midfielder will be back at Stamford Bridge on Saturday when Chelsea, who have a five-point lead over the Premier League champions, take on City in a title showdown.
“He is going to come back as a legend, the man who helped the club win so many trophies in the last 11 years,” said Drogba who had an almost telepathic on-the-field understanding with Lampard.
“I expect the reception will be fantastic for him. He was involved in more than half of the goals I scored…so I owe him a lot.”
Drogba turns 37 in March but he is not yet ready to hang up his boots and is hoping to be offered a new contract by Chelsea at the end of the season.
“I will certainly be playing next season,” said the Ivorian who is also an ambassador for Turkish Airlines.
“I want to compete, I want to play in the Premier League because it is the best league in the world.”
Of more immediate concern to Drogba, though, is that Chelsea bounce back quickly from their shock 4-2 home defeat by third tier Bradford City in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Next up for the Londoners is the second leg of their League Cup semi-final with Liverpool on Tuesday and the striker has Wembley firmly in his thoughts.
Drogba has a remarkable record at the famous old northwest London venue, having scored eight goals in eight appearances there.
“All I can say is I’ve been lucky to score every time I have been there which makes it a very special stadium for me,” he said with a grin.