By Wayne Veysey at Wembley Stadium
As the final whistle pierced the chilly north London air, Didier Drogba set off alone towards the Chelsea fans on a victory jig.
He pumped his arms, lifted his knees and looked towards the heavens as he screamed his joy. The shirt was stripped off and swung above his head as the blue masses camped behind the goal hollered their approval for a man whose legend has only been enhanced by the remarkable events of the last month.
It was spontaneous and ever so slightly self-indulgent, but none of the 89,102 souls at Wembley or hundreds of millions of viewers across the globe could deny that it was richly deserved.
The master of Wembley had once again showed his worshippers that he is the player for the marquee occasion with another defining display at English football’s greatest cathedral.
Eight appearances under the arch have yielded eight goals. Seven have come in showpiece domestic finals, including four in four different FA Cup finals, a record that might not be beaten for another generation, if ever.
|DIDI? HE DID YOU KNOW|
|FROM OUR LIVE COMMENTARY|
|52'||DROGBA SCORES AT WEMBLEY AGAIN! Lampard finds the big striker in the Reds' box, he collects it and shifts it onto his left foot before shooting through Skrtel's legs and past a helpless Reina into the net. That's his eighth goal in eight Wembley starts for Chelsea.|
| PLAYER RATING
|7.5||The Wembley master led the line brilliantly and arrowed his eighth goal in eight Wembley matches across Reina with power, precision and complete certainty.|
Drogba was not at his absolute bull-dozing best against Liverpool. Nevertheless, he fully justified his selection ahead of Fernando Torres in the centre forward role with a display shimmering with poise, power and personality. And, of course, there was the inevitable, crucial goal.
It came after 52 minutes with a move that was as familiar as it was unstoppable. Frank Lampard threaded a carefully weighted diagonal ball pass for Drogba to take in his stride, turn and arrow into the bottom-left corner of Pepe Reina’s goal.
Martin Skrtel’s attempt at closing the No. 11 down will not make too many defensive coaching manuals but, even in his 35th year, Drogba can skin a cat in more than one way.
Centre-backs are reluctant to get too close because he still has the pace to roll them and speed away with the ball at his feet. This can leave the opposition at the mercy of Drogba’s velcro touch, quick feet and sharp mind.
Like those other mainstays John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole, it is Drogba’s iron will that has really stood out during Chelsea’s rejuvenation under Roberto Di Matteo.
Magnificent home and away against Barcelona, unplayable both in the last-16 second leg against Napoli and the FA Cup semi-final thrashing of Tottenham, Drogba lifts his game when he is most needed.
Speaking afterwards about Drogba’s enduring class, Roberto Di Matteo observed, “He’s not 65, he’s still a top professional”.
True, but the 34-year-old had been wrapped in cotton wool after the greatest night in Chelsea’s European history 12 days previously. He was an unused substitute in the mauling of QPR last weekend and his main contribution in the midweek defeat to Newcastle United had been to gasp in admiration at the brilliance of Papiss Demba Cisse.
The Senegalese has taken the Premier League by storm in the last three months and is undoubtedly the real deal but Drogba is not ready quite yet to give up his throne as king of the targetmen.
Nevertheless, he was not even the most impressive tower forward on view at Wembley. Andy Carroll could lay claim to that title with a fabulous cameo that nearly swung the final back in Liverpool’s favour following his appearance as a 54th minute substitute.
But it was Drogba whose goal proved to be the difference between the two teams and it was Drogba who was summoned to lift the trophy in tandem with Terry.
While there is a suspicion that he picks his games these days, it is some player who is good enough to be the monarch of all he surveys on the biggest occasions of all.
As the celebrations continued into the evening, after the seats in the Liverpool end had long been deserted, Drogba lapped up the adulation of the Chelsea fans.
And well he might. If this is the start of his Chelsea goodbye – and the unsigned contract that has been on offer all season suggests it is - then it could be one of the longest and sweetest au revoirs of them all.
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