Didier Drogba and his African team-mates go into the new Premier League season determined to convince Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas they deserve to be part of the club’s future.
Villas-Boas has promised to give everyone a chance to impress after his close-season arrival at Stamford Bridge and that will be music to the ears of Drogba, Salomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien.
But although the Portuguese coach is only 33 — the same age as Drogba — his rapid rise to the top has been characterised by tremendous self-belief, which suggests he wouldn’t hesitate to dump even seasoned performers like the Ivory Coast striker.
If he sticks with his favoured 4-3-3 formation there will only be room for one of either Drogba or £50 million signing Fernando Torres as the attacking spearhead, yet the Ivorian is sure he can win the battle and then convince Villas-Boas to extend a contract which expires in June.
“That’s the manager’s choice but it’s been like this for me for all my years here,” Drogba said.
“It was the same when Eidur Gudjohnsen and Andrei Shevchenko were here and all of the other times. It’s nothing new and it’s good for the team to have some competition.
“I’m 33, I’m the oldest player and it feels strange but I’m not worried. If I deserve to play then I will play.
“I said a few years ago that I will be here until the end of my contract and I am here. I want to finish my career at Chelsea.”
Nigerian midfielder Mikel, Ivory Coast forward Kalou and Ghana midfielder Essien also go into the new campaign will reasons to fret over their futures.
Mikel has yet to fulfil the potential that made Chelsea outbid Manchester United to sign him, while Kalou has never been able to hold down a regular first-team place.
Essien will spend the next six months recovering from knee surgery after the third serious knee injury of his career.
Across London, Drogba’s compatriot Gervinho will be expected to add directness and power to an Arsenal attack often guilty of over-elaboration.
The £10 million signing fired Lille to the French title last season and in the process convinced Gunners boss Arsene Wenger that he was the right man to fill the void left by Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor’s sale two years ago.
Gervinho’s impressive form in pre-season suggests he could be an ideal foil for Robin van Persie. Wenger certainly thinks so.
“Gervinho is a good addition to our squad,” he said. “He is very interesting because he gives us options on both sides and through the middle. He can integrate well with our team.”
Arsenal may be in a state of flux at present, but there can be no doubting Manchester City’s title credentials after another close-season spending spree.
Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure — the club’s FA Cup star after winning goals in the semi-final and final last season — is adamant City are ready to overhaul Manchester United as champions.
“We have to make a statement from the start. The most important thing is that the team shows Man City are coming,” said Yaya, whose brother Kolo should return from a drugs ban in September.
“We have to show United we are here. We are going to have to fight to show people that City are going all the way to the top.”
Meanwhile, West Bromwich Albion’s Nigerian striker Peter Odemwingie aims to prove that last season’s prolific form was no fluke, as does Sunderland’s Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan.AP