A Match Made in Heaven: Frank Lampard & Didier Drogba

Fans who started following Chelsea Football Club in the early 2000s like myself are blessed to have witnessed the absolute best period in the club’s history. A steady uptick in fortunes from Gullit’s and Vialli’s time in charge of the club reached its zenith with the sale of the club to Roman Abramovich, and the subsequent appointment of Jose Mourinho. Nothing typified this change more than the partnership of Frank Lampard & Didier Drogba.

Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba celebrate one of many goals scored together.
Drogba and Lampard’s almost telepathic connection became an extremely common source of goals. Image Credit: Press Association.

His first transfer window was an absolute blinder, with future icons such as Petr Cech, Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho making the move to London to sync up with an already exceptional squad boasting the likes of Makelele, John Terry and Eidur Gudjohnsen. And within this collection of like-minded and brilliant professionals, relationships and partnerships were forged that have led to a trophy-laden decade and a half since.

Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard: Humble Beginnings

Arguably the most iconic partnership to emerge from the Jose Era was Frank Lampard & Didier Drogba. There are remarkable similarities to their career trajectories. Both faced criticism, often unwarranted when they started off. And when the Special One walked into Stamford Bridge, both Frank and Didier were 26 years old and had arguably underachieved with respect to the limitless talent they both possessed. Jose’s win-or-die mindset rubbed off on the entire squad and what ensued was pure magic.

The 2004/05 season saw Chelsea win their first title in 50 years. Frank finished the season with 13 goals and 16 assists in the league, a big upgrade from 10 goals and 7 assists the previous season. Didier took his time to adjust to the league but he had a respectable return of 10 goals and 5 assists. The numbers don’t tell the full story though. The machine Mou built steamrolled everyone who came in their way, conceding a grand total of 15 goals in the league, and finished on 95 points for the season. Frank won the Player of the Year award, and Didier scored the winner in the League Cup final.

The Jose Mourinho Era was well and truly underway.

Global Recognition

The 2005/06 season saw the Chelsea squad go from strength to strength. An early exit to Barcelona in the Champions League was a dampener, but Chelsea retained the league, and in style. Frank and Didier were at the forefront again, with Frank boasting attacking returns of 16 goals and 9 assists in the prem. Didier got a total of 12 goals and 14 assists, and his link-up and overall play was instrumental in releasing Damien Duff, Arjen Robben, Joe Cole and Frank into space. Frank finished second in the Ballon D’Or behind only Ronaldinho, with Jose Mourinho calling him the best player in the world. And with the levels of consistency displayed week in week out, the suggestion wasn’t outlandish.

(L to R) Samuel Eto'o, Ronaldinho and Frank Lampard at the 2005 Ballon D'Or Ceremony.
Lampard finishes 2nd in the prestigious Ballon D’Or award. Image Credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images.

World Class

The 2006/07 season saw Didier take the number 11 shirt after Damien Duff’s departure, and he made the progression from a very good striker to a world-beater. 33 goals in all competitions with 20 in the league. Golden boot winner. 2nd in POTY ratings behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Frank Lampard meanwhile finished with 11 goals and 11 assists. The league campaign was a disappointment with United cruising to the league title. But Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard combined to good effect in both the League Cup and FA Cup finals to win us the cup double. The goal in the FA Cup Final in the new Wembley was testament to the strength of their understanding on the pitch. A sublime one-two and a cheeky finish past Van Der Sar. Magic!

Players for the ‘Big Game’

A 3-2 away win at Goodison was the biggest example of the grit and winning mentality Didier and Frank brought to the squad. Losing 2-1 and into the final 10 minutes, Frank stepped up with an absolute belter into the top corner. 6 minutes later, Didier ran onto a Shevchenko flick on, and volleyed an absolute corker past Tim Howard. 2 goals of the highest quality right when the team needed it the most. Feature of both their careers. When the occasion demanded it, these 2 always stepped up. Absolute men!

The highlight of the next 2 seasons was the FA Cup final win over Everton in 2008/09. Guess who won that game for us. Didier and Frank. Frank played a delightful ball over the Everton defence for Malouda to cross and Didier met it with a trademark bullet header. Frank won it for us with an absolute blinder on his weak foot. Clutch performance yet again.

Lampard, Drogba, Ballack and Hiddink celebrate the FA Cup Triumph.
Lampard and Drogba celebrate the FA Cup triumph with Guus Hiddink. Image Credit: Alex Livesey/Getty Images.

2009/10 was mad, even by the duo’s lofty standards. Didier ripped defences to shreds with 29 goals and 13 assists in the league. Frank ended the season with an insane return of 22 goals and 16 assists. 38 G+A for a midfielder. Unimaginable in the context of modern-day football. The FA Cup final against Portsmouth was won by a blinder of a free-kick from Didier. Another goal in a final. Carlo Ancelotti built his attacking juggernaut around the Englishman and Ivorian’s almost-telepathic connection, and Chelsea blew away everyone who came before them. 103 goals in the prem with Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba contributing 51 of them. Otherworldly numbers.

The UCL: One Last Dance

The one trophy that eluded this iconic pair was the Champions League, and how ironic that they won it in the one season no one gave Chelsea a chance. The Andre Villas Boas experiment backfired spectacularly, and Roberto Di Matteo turned things around by reinstating Drogba and Frank to the XI. A 6th place finish in the league was a major disappointment. But a Drogba goal off a Lampard assist in the FA Cup Final against Liverpool turned out to be the winner, and in the run to the Champions League final, no one stood taller than Frank and Didier. Both scored in the stunning 4-1 comeback win over Napoli at Stamford Bridge.

A Lampard switch sent Ramires on his way to cross to Drogba for the winner in the first leg against Barcelona. In the second leg, Lampard marshalled the midfield and defence superbly after JT got sent off. His lofted reverse pass released Ramires for THAT chip. And that night in Munich does not need further description. Lampard and Mikel were superb in front of the back four. And Didier produced a moment worthy of the gods with that header, and the winning penalty.

Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba celebrate with the Champions League trophy.
Frank Lampard captained Chelsea to the greatest night in the club’s history. Image Credit: Getty Images.

The Legacy of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard

They are victims of their own success at times. The sheer numbers they put up are slandered on Twitter and other social media platforms by kids who never saw them play. Too much. Too little. Statpadding. Big game merchants. I doubt either Frank Lampard or Didier Drogba care what people think. Their records speak for themselves.

Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba will always be synonymous with Chelsea Football Club. The connection they built on the pitch resulted in them combining for 36 goals, and 8 trophy-laden seasons. The minute Frank received the ball from JT, Makelele, Essien and others, Didier was always on the move, and Frank could find him with his eyes closed. Chelsea fans lives – including my own – are richer for having watched them in their prime. Our squad today could do with a few players with the heart and unparalleled drive these two possessed.

It really was a match made in Heaven.

Written by Akash Hebbar (@akashhebbarcfc8)

Edited by Rob Pratley

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