Costa vs Drogba: Who's the better Chelsea striker? FFT's writers argue
Former Blues striker Tony Cascarino got us thinking this week.
"Although he hasn't won as many trophies as Didier Drogba did, I think Costa is a better centre-forward," the ex-Chelsea striker wrote for The Times. "Drogba spent a lot of time cuddling defenders, while Costa just riles them."
But is that just one rogue opinion in a vast ocean of Didier love? Turns out that may not be the case. Gentlemen, start your arguments...
Diego Costa (Garry Hayes, @garryhayes)
Attempting to compare Didier Drogba’s legend status at Chelsea to that of any other striker is futile. After all, this is a man who won them the Champions League, scored in several cup finals and lifted the Premier League title four times.
By that measure, there are few who come bigger down the King’s Road. This debate isn’t about Drogba the legend, though, it’s Drogba the player – and the respective definitions are very different. It’s why labelling Diego Costa the more talented of the two shouldn’t be dismissed without thought.
Costa has the best strike rate of any Chelsea player since English football’s top flight rebranded itself as the Premier League in 1992
The pair are ripe for comparison, having played in the same era – and even, for a brief period, at the same time – and signing for the club at a similar stage of their careers. It’s interesting to note, however, that a 28-year-old Drogba simply wasn’t offering much as Costa currently is at the same age: he scored fewer goals and directly won the club fewer points.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Drogba was also just as petulant as Costa, as evidenced by his needless slap of Manchester United defender Nemanja Vidic in the 2008 Champions League Final which earned him a red card. Had the striker not been so stupid, it probably would have been him taking the decisive fifth spot-kick in the shootout rather than John Terry.
Costa clearly has his own behavioural issues, but he’s cleaning his act up under Antonio Conte and has already scored seven goals this season. Combined with his goal tally in his two previous years in west London, that return means the Spain international has the best strike rate of any Chelsea player since English football’s top flight rebranded itself as the Premier League in 1992.
That’s not only better than Drogba, but also Gianluca Vialli, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Gianfranco Zola and Frank Lampard. Such players have rightly secured a place in the Chelsea record books for their contributions, which naturally dictates that supporters place them on a pedestal.
Yet the fact that Costa doesn’t yet have nostalgia on his side shouldn't mean we play down his ability. He’s more graceful than Drogba, who was used mainly as a battering ram under Jose Mourinho, and his technique is often underrated. The 28-year-old’s off-the-ball movement is terrific too, a quality which proved a major a factor in Cesc Fabregas’s abnormal assists ratio in 2014/15. The Blues midfielder was able to send long balls over the top in the knowledge that his international team-mate would charge onto them.
Costa reads the game well and combines smartly with his team-mates, and he’s also capable of offering the same physical threat as Drogba. They key difference, though, is that there are more strings to the Spain international’s bow. His wide-ranging skill set allows Chelsea to adapt the way they play; Drogba, more of a one-dimensional centre-forward, was never capable of doing the same.
Didier Drogba (Paul Wentworth, @paultwentworth)
Saturday, May 19, 2012. Allianz Arena, Munich. Didier Drogba is draped in an Ivorian flag hoisting a silver cup above his head and 18,000 fans dressed in blue are in delirium. It’s a familiar sight, but this one is different: Chelsea have won the Champions League, after a swing of Drogba’s right foot sent the decisive penalty past Bayern Munich’s despairing goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to secure football’s greatest prize.
His immense strength of character, pace, power and relentless desire to win at all costs set him apart
Though Munich was the night that confirmed Didier Drogba’s icon status among Chelsea fans, merely singling out one moment of his Blues career would be wasteful. Only in its full context can the complete picture of Drogba’s contribution to Chelsea be measured. In 381 appearances across two spells, the Ivorian proved himself to be the greatest striker in the club’s history. Not just for his goals – although there were 164 of those – but also his presence and mark he left in west London.
His immense strength of character, pace, power and relentless desire to win at all costs set him apart. On the biggest of stages, Drogba delivered the goods: nine goals in nine European, League and FA Cup finals; he won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, three League Cups, two Community Shields and, of course, the Champions League.
Diego Costa made an explosive start to his Chelsea career, whereas Drogba took a while to get going. The jury was out on the Ivorian after a combined 22 league goals in his first two seasons, not to mention the question marks about his attitude and behaviour on the field.
Drogba became a pantomime villain. The red card for a slap on Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic in the 2008 Champions League Final did him no favours, nor his reaction to the controversial defeat by Barcelona in the last four of the same competition a year later. Lesser men would have given in at that point – but not Drogba. His strength of character shone through, with the 2009/10 campaign proving to be a defining year for the striker. He netted an incredible 37 goals in competitions, leading Chelsea to a domestic cup double and picking up the Premier League Golden Boot along the way.
The following campaign was not a vintage one as Drogba battled fitness, form and even a bout of malaria, but 2011/12 proved to be the high point of his Chelsea career. He set the Blues on their way in a 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham as Roberto Di Matteo’s side booked their place in the FA Cup final, where he would again find the back of the net as Chelsea beat Liverpool 2-1.
It was then on to Munich, where he ensured his place in club folklore forever. Drogba was an icon, the key man behind Chelsea’s incredible continental success. He then decided it was a good time to depart, spending two years away from Stamford Bridge at Shanghai Shenhua and Galatasary, before returning to west London for the second coming of Jose Mourinho.
He didn’t start every game in 2014/15, but Drogba still played a pivotal role as Chelsea won another Premier League title. Once again, he departed a hero.