LONDON (Reuters) - If a picture is worth a thousand words then the sight of Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry standing side by side to lift the FA Cup on Saturday neatly encapsulated the story of a season in which the old guard have confounded their critics to revitalise the club.
The three Chelsea players, who were first up the Wembley steps to collect the trophy following their 2-1 win over Liverpool, represented part of the club that many had written off at the start of the campaign as part of a successful past rather than the future.
Saturday’s win, in which Terry, 31, gave an inspired performance as skipper, Lampard, 33, shone in the midfield battle with Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard and Drogba, 34, netted with a clinical second-half strike, was a startling role reversal from earlier in the season.
Then Chelsea’s senior players were frequently sidelined under former manager Andre Villas-Boas, who is only 34 himself.
Lampard and Drogba were the principal victims of the Portuguese’s unsuccessful efforts to breathe new life into the club but that changed following his departure in March when the managerial reins were handed to former Chelsea midfielder Roberto Di Matteo.
Under the Italian, both have played a major role in a remarkable renaissance that could yet deliver the coveted and elusive Champions League trophy in two weeks’ time.
The Ivorian striker, in particular, has rediscovered his menacing physicality and form and the FA Cup was delivered thanks in large part to his left-footed finish that opened up a two-goal advantage, following Ramires’s early opener.
Drogba, whose recent displays have included crucial FA Cup and Champions League semi-final goals against Tottenham Hotspur and Barcelona, entered the FA Cup record books as the first player to score in four finals.
After a season-long jostle with 50-million-pound ($80.79-million) newcomer Fernando Torres for the right to lead the Chelsea line, he is now a certainty to start the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on May 19.
Drogba has been frequently linked with a move away from Stamford Bridge and his contract is up at the end of the season. His captain Terry, however, has joined those calling for him to be offered a new deal.
“I hope he will be back at Wembley,” Terry, who became the first man for 130 years to captain a team to four FA Cup wins, told reporters.
”It will such a shame if he leaves because he has been incredible for this football club, and throughout the world when people look at Chelsea they look at Didier.
“We have a massive Champions League game in a couple of weeks and hopefully something can be thrashed out.”
Such has been Di Matteo’s impact since assuming control, that the players hoisted him into the air in an impromptu celebration following Saturday’s triumph.
The Italian, who won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 1997 and 2000 as a player, has been credited with restoring the team’s confidence and repairing their fractured spirit.
While his arrival was unheralded and he follows in the shadow of more illustrious names such as Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, he is now one match away from taking Chelsea to the pinnacle of the European game.
The impressive turnaround in the club’s fortunes would appear to have improved his chances of getting the position on a permanent basis but, such is owner Roman Abramovich’s reputation for wanting only A-list managers, that even victory in Munich would not guarantee him the job.
“He has been incredible,” Terry said about the stand-in coach.
“It is a decision that the board are obviously going to make and hopefully with this win we can go on and achieve greatness for this football club which will make it very easy for the board.”
Lampard is another whose return to form has coincided with Di Matteo’s arrival at the club and unsurprisingly he echoed his captain’s praise.
“He deserves every accolade you can possibly give him for what he has done,” Lampard said.
”He has turned it around from a difficult situation to get the big players playing and to get confidence running through the team.
“It is a club decision come the summer, but I don’t think Robbie is a loser whichever way you look at it.” ($1 = 0.6189 British pounds)
Edited by Mike Collett