Didier Drogba has told L'Equipe that difficult early years at Chelsea almost pushed him to quit Stamford Bridge.
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Drogba, 36, returns to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs on Tuesday when he hopes to help Galatasaray pip his former side to a place in the Champions League quarterfinals after a 1-1 first-leg draw in Istanbul.
Despite his feet now being in the employ of the Blues' opponents, Drogba admitted his heart has remained in the English capital, a place he initially hated after his move from Marseille in 2004.
"I will live there after my career. My children have grown up in London, they like it there. And to think, at the start, I got depressed when I saw the grey sky, the night come in early, the drizzle. The first two seasons, I was always saying: 'I'm sick of this. I can't settle, I want to leave'. In the end, I stuck at it, and it brought all of this," said the Ivory Coast international, whose own scepticism was matched by that of the Chelsea fans who failed to see why 37.5 million euros had been invested in a 26-year-old striker few outside of France had heard of.
"At the start, I had doubts, because I didn't really feel the fans behind me. I hadn't won them over. Moreover, there was always a new striker arriving. After those difficulties, I made progress physically, and I said to myself: 'Give everything, go to the end of your contract, and if you have to leave, leave.' In the end, I extended my contract and built a great relationship with the fans."
Drogba's love affair with Chelsea brought three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the Hollywood-esque swansong of a Champions League triumph before he set out for a short-lived but lucrative spell in China with Shanghai Shenhua in 2012, moving to Turkey after just six months in the Far East.
He played all but the last 10 minutes of his first reunion with his former teammates late last month, but acknowledged the return to Stamford Bridge will be even more special.
"I don't know how I'm going to react, because I've never experienced it, but I'm so happy to come back," Drogba said. "When you are up against guys that you have been with for so long, it does something to you. But once the game has started there's none of that. We got stuck into each other. It's a very, very high level. The first leg reminded me of training sessions from two or three years ago. With Terry, believe you me, neither of us took any prisoners at the time."
While John Terry got to grips with Drogba on the training pitch at Cobham, the former Guingamp and Le Mans forward was battling with high-profile figures such as Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo for a place in the starting XI. Though they were rivals, Drogba feels he owes them a debt of gratitude for helping make him one of Europe's most-feared forwards.
"There was a lot of competition, but it was healthy. And I haven't forgotten that it enabled me to play alongside some world-class forwards. It was totally new for me. I continued to learn with them because I had the desire to improve. If I had been the only striker, I would have been good, but I wouldn't have got to this level. When you see Shevchenko, his movement, his ratio chances/goals, it's incredible. A guy like Crespo, it was his runs, his cunning, the finesse of his finishing. And the others... I watched them all, analysed them every day. I'm not ashamed to say they taught me. I fed off them."
He was also supplied by Frank Lampard, whose eye for a pass and unerring set-piece delivery teed up so many of Drogba's 157 strikes for Chelsea.
"We have a real understanding, real respect for each other," Drogba said of the England international. "For me, he's one of the best players I ever played with and the best midfielder. He's the guy whom I would like my children to resemble if they decide to play football. You can trust him blindly. When you don't know him, you might find him distant, but he's a gentleman."