LONDON • At his prime, Didier Drogba was one of the most feared strikers in the world with his ability to play with his back to the goal.
His strength and aerial prowess made the former Ivory Coast international a fan favourite and he left a lasting impression on his former clubs and teammates, with many of them paying tribute after he announced his retirement on Wednesday following a 20-year career.
The 40-year-old scored 164 goals in 381 appearances for Chelsea, winning four English Premier League titles, four FA Cups and the 2012 Champions League, while he netted 65 times to become his country's all-time record scorer.
"I wanna thank all the players, managers, teams and fans that I have met and made this journey one of a kind," he tweeted.
"If anyone tells you your dreams are too big, just... work harder and smarter to turn them into a reality."
Derby manager Frank Lampard, who played with Drogba for eight years at Stamford Bridge, hailed his former teammate as a "monster in the dressing room" and told reporters yesterday that "he's one of the greatest that I've played with".
Former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who like Lampard spent eight seasons alongside Drogba, tweeted: "What an amazing career... Congratulations my friend and I wish you all the best for the football retirement... Unbelievable player and person."
Ghanaian Michael Essien also referred to Drogba as his "brother".
The former Blues midfielder, who was in the same team for seven years, tweeted: "It was a pleasure playing with you. You inspired many of us to go the extra mile, and you have been a great ambassador for African football and Chelsea."
French Ligue 1 side Marseille, where Drogba is fondly remembered after his only season with the club inspired them to reach the 2004 Uefa Cup final, called him a "legend, Olympien, hero" on their Twitter page. Chelsea, meanwhile, tweeted their gratitude "for the many wonderful memories".
Drogba, who was twice voted African Footballer of the Year, also had spells in China and Turkey.
He ended his playing days with United Soccer League's Phoenix Rising, where he was a player-owner, with his last game coming on Nov 8.
"It's the best way to end, helping some young talent to develop," Drogba told the BBC.
"To give something back to the game was the best way to finish as I have learnt so much in the game."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS