LONDON -- Jose Mourinho has described Didier Drogba as “one of the most important players in the history” of Chelsea and tipped the striker to return to the club “one day.”
Drogba will take to the Stamford Bridge pitch for the first time since leaving the club in 2012 when Galatasaray take on Chelsea in their Champions League last-16 second leg on Tuesday.
The Ivory Coast striker won 10 major trophies in eight years with the Blues -- including scoring the winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final with his last kick of a ball for the club.
When specifically asked about the player’s future, Mourinho initially said it wasn’t the right time to talk about it but did float the prospect of a return.
“I don't think it's a moment to answer that,” Mourinho told reporters at his prematch news conference. “Tomorrow is a big game. I don't think it's the right moment to think about it. He's a Galatasaray player. We know he's a free agent and finishes his contract at the end of the season, but I don't think it's the right moment to think about it.
“I think it has to happen one day. When, I don't know. As a player, as a coach, as an ambassador, next year, in four or five years, or 10 years, I don't know. But when a person represents so much to a club and the club represents so much to a person, as is the case, I think he has to be welcomed back.
“Undoubtedly, he's one of the most important players in the history of this club. That's not a doubt. We all, Chelsea supporters, agree with that. We don't say the most important one because it's not fair for other people who were in the same level or in the same generation.
“But, for sure, he was one of the most important players in the history of our club. Is he the same player at 36 that he was at 26? I think nobody is. But he's one of the best strikers in the world. That's for sure.”
Drogba said he is relishing the prospect of returning to Stamford Bridge, admitting it would be an "emotional" night for him personally.
“I’m really happy to come back and see familiar faces and it’s good," Drogba said. “It won’t be difficult to play. It’s a big game, a big competition and it means a lot to my team, so I will find a way to play it.
“It’s very difficult to play against Chelsea but it will not be difficult for me to put myself into the competition. I belong to Galatasaray and I need to be professional.
“Of course there will be emotions, like the first leg, when I saw my ex-teammates and the Chelsea fans in the stadium. It was special but then there was the game and it was tough, high intensity and it think it will be the same tomorrow.”
Asked whether he would celebrate should he score against his former club, Drogba said: “With all the respect I have for this club, for the fans and the players, I might not celebrate but if we win I will be happy.”
Gary Cahill, meanwhile, said he would not be offended if Drogba celebrated, saying: “I'm sure he is in two minds, probably with the feeling he has for the club. If he celebrated a goal, it wouldn't offend me personally.
“To score a goal in a Champions League game is a great thing. Hopefully he doesn't. But he has the fans and the club to think about. Knowing Didier, he'd maybe not do that if he did score. Hopefully he won't score.”