Didier Drogba, who scored the winning penalty in Chelsea’s Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, will leave the soccer club at the end of June when his contract expires.
The Ivory Coast national team player spent eight years at Chelsea, getting 157 goals in 341 appearances. His 88th-minute score last weekend leveled the game at 1-1 in Bayern’s Allianz Arena before he got the crucial penalty in a 4-3 shootout after extra time. It was the Blues’ first European Cup title.
Speculation has surrounded the future of the 34-year-old striker, who joined from Marseille in July 2004, a year after Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the club. He’s been linked in media reports with a move to China’s Shanghai Shenhua, on a salary of 250,000 pounds ($395,000) a week according to today’s Daily Mail.
Drogba helped the London club to Premier League title wins in his first two seasons.
The Blues also won the league in 2010, and the F.A. Cup four times during his time in west London as he scored in each final. He also helped secure two League Cup victories.
On the first occasion Chelsea reached the Champions League final, in 2008, Drogba was red-carded before his teammates lost on penalties to Manchester United.
He said it was a “very difficult decision” to leave, and Chelsea would “always be in my heart.”
“The time is right for a new challenge for me,” he told the club website. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the club, especially Roman and my team-mates, many of whom have become very close friends and will be my friends for life. I would also like to say a very special thank you to the Chelsea fans who have shown me so much love and support over the years.”
Chelsea Chief Executive Officer Ron Gourlay called Drogba a “legend” at the club.
“He has been a consummate professional during his entire time here and as one of the natural leaders in our squad he has been an inspiration to a lot of our younger players,” Gourlay said.
Drogba may not be the only Chelsea player to leave in the offseason. Salomon Kalou and Jose Bosingwa could depart, according to U.K. media reports. Interim coach Roberto Di Matteo hasn’t been confirmed in his post, and there’s speculation he could also be replaced.