'Emotionally it was difficult for me," says Didier Drogba when asked about José Mourinho's departure from Chelsea, almost six years ago. "I did not understand. My reaction was I want to go; he has left, I want to go, everything is finished. I was in this mood. But then I was still under contract and I always said that as long as I was wearing the Chelsea shirt I will always give my best, no matter what. I will always give my best. For two weeks it was very difficult."
Drogba casts his mind back to that turbulent period at Stamford Bridge when Roman Abramovich lost patience with a manager who had secured five major trophies for Chelsea and was still adored by the supporters. "All the players who were there at that time, we still have that winning mentality. It is something you do not lose," he says. "It was unique, in a way, but it is like when you learn how to ride a bike, even if you do not do it for years, when you find a new bike, you don't forget. That's why José needs to come back."
Drogba has a new life in Istanbul with Galatasaray but when discussing Chelsea it is clear that the intimate bond formed during eight hugely successful years will never die. There remains a burning passion, love almost, 10 months after scoring the most crucial goal in the club's history to secure a first European Cup. It was the perfect way to end a spell during which he became intrinsically associated with Stamford Bridge.
This week at the Bernabeu he was reunited with Mourinho, as Fatih Terim's side lost 3-0 to Real Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Drogba's relationship with the Portuguese is beyond what is normally shared between a manager and a player. Mourinho recently described the striker as "out of this world" and said that, of all the people he has worked with, the Ivorian would top his list.
"People say Mourinho liked me, I was his son. But, in fact, if I was not performing then I did not play," Drogba says. "That is the good thing with him. Even if he likes you outside football, if you do not perform on the pitch you do not play. That is really what is his signature. After the [Champions League] draw I texted him and have seen him at one game since, that's it."
Mourinho is renowned for the loyalty and affinity he shares with players.
Tears were shed with Marco Materazzi during an emotional arrivederci at Internazionale and Drogba believes these relationships are required to build a winning mentality. "We call him daddy. I don't know about all of us but he did a lot of things for me during that moment where I had a lot of critics. He was supporting me and helping me. He signed me for Chelsea and did everything.
"He knows how to win and how to create the mentality. For example, when Barcelona were dominating the Spanish league and all the clásicos against Real Madrid, he lost 5-0 at the Camp Nou but he knew that one day they would take over and he would change it, and that's what is happening now. I think Barcelona now are unplayable so for him to win the league last year was something great, unbelievable I think.
"He knows how to create this winning mentality. During a game a player could score two goals but he would go to one midfielder or one central defender and say, 'For me, you were man of the match.' You know if you scored two goals that you had a good performance but to score those goals somebody had to work behind for you not to concede."
There were many amusing and controversial Mourinho moments during an incident-filled tenure. Allegedly ducking a Uefa ban by clandestinely burying himself in a laundry basket in 2005 ("Did that happen? I don't remember," says Drogba with a smile), the infamous "Special One" declaration, throwing his Premier League medal into the crowd – the list goes on.
"We laugh, we laugh because we know managing is his passion and he likes to play with the media as well. It's just football and a way for him to have fun. But at the same time when he goes back to his team he says, 'Now, we have to do this, this and this to win. We win this game and we are champions.' He gives you the boost in confidence and you go for it.
Since Mourinho departed in 2007 Chelsea have had seven managers. Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, André Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo have all held the post and, with the exception of Hiddink, all have been sacked by Abramovich. Drogba is still close with the Russian oligarch but is perplexed about why Frank Lampard has not been offered a new contract and admits it is difficult to observe Chelsea struggling this season.
"When we speak about important players who have made history for a club, I think of Ryan Giggs at Man United or [Paolo] Maldini at Milan. Of course there will be new players, young talents to keep improving the club but players like John [Terry] and Frank should stay at the club to give this passion, to share this passion for the club and the mentality with these young players. For me they should stay. What Frank is doing now is unbelievable. To be two goals from being the best-ever scorer is remarkable. He has to stay.
"They have played so many games, they can be tired and you cannot go against this. Also, there is a change. Some players left – me, [José] Bosingwa, [Florent] Malouda is not playing … [Raul] Meireles, [Salomon] Kalou. These were important players for the team as well. They brought a lot of new young players who do not know the league, who need to adapt. There will be ups and downs next season but they will fight again for the title."
On the reign of Villas-Boas, Drogba adds: "He came with his ideas and it was difficult for him to adapt to the situation. Sometimes you come with your ideas and stick to it but when he came he could have handled the situation differently. He is still a good friend. I have known him for nine years. It was really sad that he left but what he is doing now with Tottenham we can see that he is a great manager."
But there is no such admiration for Rafael Benitez, who was appointed on an interim basis in November and has received hostility from the Chelsea fans ever since.
"Yes [I was surprised]. I went to see a game at Stamford Bridge and the fans were not so happy with him coming as manager. It must be tough to manage a team in these conditions. With the history he had with the club, I can understand the fans a little bit," says Drogba, who was criticised as a diver by Benitez during the Spaniard's time as the Liverpool manager.
Breach of contract
"Yes, it was before a Champions League semifinal. You know, that is football. I celebrated right in front of him. That is part also of the game. It was more like a mental game and he was playing. It was a mistake. When you do things like that, it really gives me one more reason: 'I only see you and I have to win.' It had the opposite effect."
A new chapter has begun for Drogba at Galatasaray after an unfortunate period at Shanghai Shenhua, who are still pursuing Fifa over an alleged breach of contract by the 35-year-old, something he strongly denies. He insists he has "no regrets" about the move to China and although it was a "risk" to join the Turkish league he has been impressed by the standard of football.
"Believe me, you have to see what we are doing in the Champions League, against Schalke [whom Galatasaray beat in the previous round]. The league is good, the league is competitive and we are improving because I think more quality players are going to come here. Maybe I'm lucky. As long as I have the passion – that's what drives me, the passion. As long as I have this, I will always try to compete for the best."
As for Drogba, Chelsea and Mourinho, one feels the sun has yet to set on this unique triangle. "I think the club is more important than us," Drogba says. "I think it goes together, we share these things. We both love Chelsea." – © Guardian News & Media 2013