Drogba confirms Blues departure
Chelsea have confirmed that Champions League hero Didier Drogba will leave Stamford Bridge when his contract expires at the end of June.
The 34-year-old Ivory Coast international has spent eight years at Chelsea, scoring 157 goals in 341 appearances, and helped the Blues win 10 titles.
One of those titles was Saturday's Champions League victory over Bayern Munich, where Drogba scored a late equaliser in normal time and then netted the winning kick in the penalty shoot-out.
Drogba has been a talisman for Chelsea, spearheading their drive for success and delivering crucial performances in the matches which mattered most.
The former Marseille forward, who has been linked with a lucrative move to China, maintained Chelsea would "always be in my heart."
Drogba said on the club's official website, www.chelseafc.com: "I wanted to put an end to all the speculation and confirm that I am leaving Chelsea.
"It has been a very difficult decision for me to make and I am very proud of what we have achieved, but the time is right for a new challenge for me.
"As a team we have accomplished so much and have won every single trophy possible.
"Saturday was a very special moment for everyone at the club and for all the fans, and I am very proud to have played my part in bringing many trophies to this club, which has been my home for the last eight years.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the club especially [owner] Roman [Abramovich] 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.
"I wish the club all the best and continued success for the future - you will always be in my heart."
Chief executive Ron Gourlay paid tribute to "Chelsea legend" Drogba. He said: "Didier is certainly leaving on a high after Saturday night, but he feels the time is right for a new challenge.
"Of course Didier has contributed so much to all of Chelsea's recent successes.
"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 revealed the decision had already been reached that Drogba would not be staying at Stamford Bridge before the squad headed to Munich.
"We have known for some time that this outcome was likely, but Didier and the club only made a final decision on that in the last couple of days, because for obvious reasons neither Didier nor the club wanted to distract focus away from the Champions League final," he said.
"The talks were amicable all the way through and we wish him all the best for the future. He is welcome back to Stamford Bridge at any time - either as a player or as a guest of ours."
Chelsea are set for some major decisions how to take the side forwards next season.
The Blues have yet to resolve firm plans for who will take charge of the team, with interim manager Roberto Di Matteo having done his claims for the full-time job no harm by following up an FA Cup final win at Wembley with landing the biggest prize of all following a penalty shoot-out in Munich.
Chelsea will wait until Di Matteo's contract expires at the end of June before deciding on the Italian's future, which could yet be back in the dugout on a one-year deal should owner Roman Abramovich put his faith in the man West Brom axed in February 2011 for fear of relegation.
Elsewhere, Chelsea also need to placate striker Fernando Torres, who hit out at his treatment last season, as well as look to secure their main transfer targets, said to include Lille playmaker Eden Hazard and Sao Paulo's Lucas Moura.
There could also yet be a return to the club for former striker Andriy Shevchenko. The 35-year-old is out to embark on a coaching career when he finally retires, which is likely to be after Ukraine host the European Championships this summer.