Ahead of Didier Drogba's homecoming in the Champions League last-16 clash between Chelsea and Galatasaray at Stamford Bridge tonight, coach Jose Mourinho has admitted that he expected the 36-year-old to make a permanent comeback to Chelsea.
Drogba's Galatasaray contract expires at the end of the season and he already has offers to stay at the Turkish club or move to Major League Soccer in America.
Mourinho met Drogba before this season and discussed the idea of a playing return to Chelsea, with a view to starting a coaching career. A move that did not materialise and it remains to be seen if the Chelsea board would sanction a Drogba playing return at the end of this campaign.
However, asked if he would like to work with Drogba again, Mourinho said: "It's not me, the important thing. It's Chelsea. I think it has to happen one day. When, I don't know.
"As a player, as a coach, as an ambassador, next year, in four or five years, or 10 years, I don't know. But when a person represents so much to a club and the club represents so much to a person, as is the case, I think he has to be welcomed back.
"We know he's a free agent and finishes his contract at the end of the season, but I don't think it's the right moment to think about it ahead of a big game. Undoubtedly, he's one of the most important players in the history of this club.
"That's not a doubt. We all, Chelsea supporters, agree with that. We don't say the most important one because it's not fair for other people who were in the same level or in the same generation. But, for sure, he was one of the most important players in the history of our club. Is he the same player at 36 that he was at 26? I think nobody is. But he's one of the best strikers in the world. That's for sure."
Drogba scored 157 goals in an eight-year playing career at Chelsea. The Ivorian confirmed that he eventually plans to move into coaching or management and could see himself working at Stamford Bridge again.
"I've learned so much in football," Drogba said. "This sport gave me so much as well. I can't turn my back and say I'm going to go into something different. Maybe it will be as a coach. Maybe in a different position. But I think now the idea is becoming clearer. I will stay in football, yes."