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'Drogba was the greatest example' - Ex-Chelsea wonderkid Di Santo on life at Stamford Bridge

In a Chelsea dressing room full of superstars such Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and John Terry, nobody had heard of France Di Santo or the club he had joined from when the Blues paid £3.4 million ($5m) for the Audax Italiano striker in 2008.

In fact, many of the players presumed that the 18-year-old had come from Italy. However, Di Santo was well known to scouts and followers of Argentine football. 

Indeed, he was considered one of his homeland's most exciting young prospects after impressing with his performances in the Copa Sudamericana.

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Di Santo was then labelled 'the new Diego Maradona' by some excited observers after making a prolific start to his time with Chelsea's reserves.

Of course, he never lived up to that billing with the senior squad, for whom he made just 16 appearances, and without scoring a single goal.

However, Di Santo fully enjoyed his time with the Blues, revealing that he was made to feel right at home at Stamford Bridge.

"The 'new Maradona' nickname didn’t affect me," Di Santo tells Goal. "My style of play wasn’t like his, and no one is like him, anyway. It was only a nickname given to me because I got 16 goals in 13 games for Chelsea’s reserves.

"I was really comfortable at Stamford Bridge. I felt happy there and they made me feel important and like one of them, even after coming from a small team that no one knew. When I spoke to the guys about my last team, Audax Italiano, they were like: 'Oh, you came from Italy?’ I was like: ‘No, it’s in Chile!’

"Not one player knew that team. But they were really humble and helped me in every single way. It helped me to catch up with them. There were so many good players there. Every single one of them was amazing.

"You knew it when the international games came around: we had only two players not called up. Everyone was needed by their national teams, which was the level of Chelsea at that time. It was an amazing squad.

Franco Di Santo John Terry Frank Lampard Chelsea GFXGetty Images

"I felt most impressed by Didier Drogba, with how he was both on and off the pitch. He was one of the greatest examples I followed to be a better player but also a great person outside of the pitch. He was an example for all the young players.

"In general, John Terry was always trying to help us. Everyone was good, though. I didn’t have a lot of minutes in Chelsea. I played a lot of games but only from the bench. I didn’t get the opportunity to play for [Carlo] Ancelotti, so I left Chelsea (in 2010) to play more games.

"At Wigan, I think I did a good job. In my last season, I was the top scorer in the team and we won the FA Cup as a small team. I was happy with my work in England.

"I came from a small team in Chile, so to move from there to England to play for a big club, one of the biggest clubs in the world, it was a really, really big step for me. Looking back, I think I am happy with my career there."

After being compared to Maradona, Di Santo would get to meet his compatriot at Chelsea's training ground in 2008, when a training session was suddenly interrupted by the footballing icon, who passed away last year.

"Meeting Diego was amazing and a dream come true," Di Santo enthuses. "No one knew he was coming and when everyone one of us saw him, we were really excited. He didn’t speak any language except Italian and Spanish and I was the only Argentine there.

"I was lucky to be there with him, have some words with him and it was my first time with him. Diego, for me, was and will always be one of the biggest players ever. There will never be another one like him.


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"For our generation, who didn’t see him playing, we knew him from the legends that our parents and grandparents told us. We saw the clips and he is a hero for Argentina. There are no words to explain what Diego represents for us.

"I was amazed I could meet him, hug him and speak with him. I will always cherish these memories and he is an idol and one of the greats."

After leaving England in 2013 as a two-time FA Cup winner, Di Santo spent six years in Germany, first with Werder Bremen, and then Schalke. He also enjoyed short spells in Spain (Rayo Vallecano) and Brazil (Atletico Mineiro) before finally returning home last year to join San Lorenzo. 

"I left my country young and never played here, so it was an ambition of mine to come back here while I can still run," Di Santo jokes. "I am 31 now but I feel good, physically and mentally. I have never had a big injury and I don’t feel 31; I feel younger.

I train professionally and take care of myself off the pitch, so I expect a lot from the rest of my career. I want to win trophies at San Lorenzo and I want more years than normal. I would like to play until 40 if possible. You never know!

"I came back to Argentina for many reasons but one was because my girlfriend was pregnant and we wanted to have our baby here, near our families and friends. But I remain open to coming back to Europe.

"I think I can still play at a high level and I haven’t given up on getting back into the national team either. It is an objective to help my country and be with them. But another objective is just to be happy."