Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho has rejected media speculation that he departed from Sunday's scouting trip to see Galatasaray unimpressed with Didier Drogba's current state of fitness and form.
Mourinho, whose side play the Turkish giants in the Champions League quarter-finals, travelled to watch Gala's 3-1 Turkish Super Lig win at Kayserispor. Drogba played the full game, but did not score or even manage a single shot on target, meaning he has just one goal in six games since joining the Istanbul club in January.
Turkish paper Hurriyet subsequently claimed, in a report picked up by AS in Spain, that the Madrid coach had told fellow observers in the stadium's directors' box that Drogba was not fully fit, and that Gala team-mate Wesley Sneijder was a much more dangerous threat.
However, Mourinho told Madrid's TV station on Tuesday that the reports were untrue, and that his former Chelsea striker remained one of his favourite players.
"Drogba is more than Drogba," Mourinho said. "These things in the press do not worry me, because Drogba knows who I am and that I have a place in my heart for him. I left before the end of the game, but still people said I had spoken badly about Drogba.
"I do not want to say he is my favourite player because I have so many truly special ones, but if I had to choose one, I would possibly go for Didier. He is a player from another world. I would like to have him at my side."
Drogba had invited him into his team's dressing room before the game, which showed how close the two still are, according to Mourinho.
"He brought me into the Galatasaray dressing room 15 or 20 minutes before the game started," he said. "Those things only happen when you have a special relationship. I was with him, with Sneijder [who Mourinho coached at Inter Milan] and with [former Madrid midfielder] Hamit Altintop. It was fun."
The Portuguese coach said he had decided to spend his free day after Saturday's 5-2 La Liga win over Real Mallorca travelling and working as he did not like to rest, while he wanted to check up on the many star names in Galatasaray's side.
"I do not like having free time without work," Mourinho said. "So on Sunday, with everyone else on holiday, I went to Turkey and met there just what I expected: a team which people know very well from the Champions League, who have two European champions, Drogba and Sneijder, and people who have played in the best teams like [Emmanuel] Eboue at Arsenal, Felipe Melo at Juventus, [Albert] Riera at Liverpool and [Fernando] Muslera at Lazio."
Mourinho believes Fatih Terim's Turkish league champions will put up a stiff test as the fourth domestic title holder that his side will have faced in this season's Champions League, after Manchester City, Ajax and Borussia Dortmund.
"If they have reached this point it is for a reason," he said. "They have not just come through the group stages, but a knockout round too. They are another league title holder, the fourth we have met this season. It will be tough, but we must try and get something positive from the first game [at the Bernabeu], which we did not do against Manchester United. We must go there with a little advantage."