By Jordan Brown
Didier Drogba emerged from the confines of his tent to the thrum of a busy camp. All around him the army of Chelsea were preparing for war. Infantrymen were rushing to formation, their tall pikes bobbing rhythmically as they ran. Plated warhorses stomped and bit at paiges checking the readiness of mounts, bowmen were fitting their strings and chatting nervously in small circles while the sounds of grinding steel poured from the row of armorers keening the edges of hundreds. Smoke and fire, sweat and leather, wood and steel, Drogba closed his eyes and breathed in deep - savoring the air of battle. It would be his last.
The thought of his waiting men broke him from his reverie and he set off, joining the rushing humanity of the camp. The blue livery of his army made like a river flowing down muddy paths, wearing the telling lines of man’s device into the rich green valleys of Bavaria.
It was a miracle they were even moving at all. Not so long before the army had been in Catalonia, and the experience had nearly ended them. The whole of the known world had expected them to falter in the Spanish leg of their campaign. Wave after wave of Barcelona’s attacks had broken upon their ranks. Halfway through their battle, the venerable Iniesta led his troops into a thrust which had seemingly put the Londoners paid. But tired and outnumbered, the strength of The Blues remained steadfast, and they found that their resolution outlasted the Blaugranas, and the late charge of the nigh forgotten General Torres shocked living world of their expectations. Chelsea would march from victory to Munchen.
There, before the Starnberg and the Ammersee - just east of Gauting—Didier Drogba went his line. Men began to pay notice. Some stopped to watch his passage, while other took knee - honoring what they knew to be the final preparations he would make for battle.
As he climbed his mount, the world around him seemed to still, as if anticipating his every move. He loomed high in the saddle, a full head above the men to his side. He was glorious - glowing in the polished steel of his plate the blue Lion Rampant blazing out from his chest. He pulled his horse to face the crowd. As he did, the sun broke out from behind the peaks of Austria, setting the sky aflame and silhouetting his tall frame against the gates of the city. He let the hush of his men sit but momentarily before bellowing deep from his chest a howl which would set the dead back into the earth. Well before he ceased, his cry was echoed from man to man, carried along both sides of the front line until the whole host of the Blue Army swelled with sound, filling the air with their collected presence.
The plan of Field Marshall De Matteo was not so different from their win in Spain. The army of Chelsea would hold the Germans in their middle line, disrupting support for the wide vanguard of Gomez. Light and heavy cavalry would support the middle and break towards Bayern’s rear lines quickly given the opening, and strike directly into the Sendlinger Tor - the gateway to Munich.
The two ends of the Bayern line were the Marshalls Robben and Ribery. It was said their animosity kept them so far from each other in the field - they had so often quarreled in the open. Their danger was far more real to their enemies though, their men would fall with grace and speed into any opening offered. De Matteo hoped to draw them down into the waiting lines of Cole and Bosingwa, leaving lanes of entry for his own wide forces of young Sturridge and the veteran Kalou.
Drogba knew this all from their weeks of preparation, as he watched his battalion move into place ahead of his own Lampard’s infantry. He trusted the theory of De Matteo’s plan, but was wary of the last line of their forces. As he turned his mount south on Neuried hill, he looked back towards the command at Gauting. Though it was too far, in his mind’s eye he could see Ser John Terry, bound in chains next to their Marshall. His disgrace at Barcelona ruled him out of this final march. For as long as his time with Chelsea, Didier Drogba had felt the support of Terry, who kept the line of their defense strong - even in the face of many doubts and torrid accusations. This last misdeed was one too many, though. Terry, who was the captain of all the Blues would only watch as the destiny he wrought unfolded before him - cursed to know that had he chosen honor over guile, he would have led this day.
Drogba’s cavalry settled into swift trot. Behind them marched a sea of Chelsea blue, throwing a great cloud of dust and sound into the sky. For minutes that seemed like hours, they saw no one. The lease farms and collectives leading towards the city were silent. Drogba could sense the anxiety welling in his ranks, each step they took filling their minds with ends and outcomes. Every passing moment left a clearer impression of mortality in each mind.
As they neared the Sendling, Drogba began to tense. It was a low plain, plotted with trees on all sides with a narrow pond in its midst. It was open and still. He knew as his company came in, that this was where it would begin.
Just steps in, horns rang out from the north and south-east. Robben and Ribery had been spotted. Drogba would not have been able to see but their lances were at full tilt, racing towards the Chelsea line. What he did see was what seemed to him a red wall. It was thousands deep and racing towards him. As they came Drogba could see their banners, wide in the morning sun—Gomez, Mueller, Kroos, and Schweinsteiger. The Germans had come.
The army of Bayern had the immediate advantage. They had chosen the place of engagement, placing their initial waves of attack around either side of Drogba’s vanguard. Two brigades led by the canny brigadegeneral general Mueller and Schweinsteiger fell upon Chelsea’s middle lines swiftly and with such precision. The move had forced Lampard’s battalion to hold deep, combining with the infantry of Obi Mikel to match forces with the Germans.
In concert with Bayern’s move toward the center, the extreme flanks of their forces took full use of their early initiative. Robben and Ribery’s lanced cavalry had passed the attacking wings of Chelsea’s own army, and reached the deep line of the blue forces. Robben harried brigadier Cole on the left, while Ribery came upon Bosingwa’s right.
Whereas the Blues had come to Munich to strike at the Germans, circumstance had turned against them. The organization and movement of the Bayern forces was fluid and efficient. To Drogba, they seemed a machine. They attacked with direct purpose, exploiting the spaces in the lines afforded by the Sendling’s width. When the young Sturridge attempted to exploit the lane left by Ribery’s thrust, it was immediately closed by Lahm, with Kroos’ battalion in support. When Lampard broke forward, attempting to release Mata from his reinforcement to move towards the deeper German lines, Schweinsteiger refused the light cavalry of Mueller off his right who rounded and stifled the advance in its infancy.
Exhaustion began to weigh upon the Blue forces. As the sun began to set behind the Schwarzwald Range and into the great Rhine beneath it, a red glow seeped across the sky—the last of its blue having bled away. At the sight, a cheer rose from the Germans. They took the sign to heart, pressing deeper and forcing Chelsea into two staggered lines.
Frustration began to build in Drogba. This was not battle he had seen for his comrades on their journey. He had spent the majority of the engagement supporting his own army’s middle and wings, riding from one call for aid to another. So often that day, his intervention had been the difference between the hold or collapse of a line.
As the roar of Bayern’s cheers rose, Robben cut his lancers inward - racing to link with Gomez at the center of Chelsea’s deep line. The whole of the battlefield sensed the moment - the wide extremes of the German defense leapt from their entrenchments and charged in. Their generalmajor Lahm on the left moved in boldly, past the Chelsea middle lines. The triumvirate midfield moved forward, Mueller at the front, wedging the gap between Lampard and Mikel. Drogba watched the move in desperation - sensing the imminent break of his Chelsea.
Robben was nearing Gomez and if they met, their combined move would surely run through. In a move of desperation, the battalion of Luiz charged from their place in the line to cut into Robben. It as the shrewd Dutchman had planned; he’d made an opening for Gomez to exploit. When Luiz reached him, his ranks would break as if felled by the attack only to regroup behind the slower infantry and race in with the vanguard.
When the force of Luiz struck, it came off exactly to Robben’s designs. His scattered light cavalry - who for a time seemed disrupted - rounded quickly to the left of Luiz, collecting again into an organized force. Just Robben was to make for Chelsea’s defensive gap, the forgotten Cole rode his mounted men directly into the Dutchman’s flank. Cole had seen far more than the young Luiz, enough to the simulacrum of defeat from it’s truth. Gomez’s mounted charge continued alone, only to be met by the pikemen under Cahill. They cut into the cavalry, with the English commander himself unhorsing, who fell with a shout of disbelief.
Suddenly the moment had changed. A cheer rose among the Blues, as Kalou and Mata shot forward toward the city. The Germans had overcommitted, leaving only Tymoshchuk, Boateng, and Neuer who stood his force before the Sendlinger Tor. Drogba had the best of them all though, the moment he saw Cole’s move to Robben, he charged in behind Lahm’s reckless advance, and straight on to the city gates.
He felt alive then. The thoughts of defeat and the heavy weight of mortality left him. He had lost the sounds of battle - the crashing metal and screams were all drowned by the crashing roar of a cavalry two thousand strong. In the midst of that din, Drogba sank within himself - he felt no fear or anger. He could see death in the sharp maw of the spears and arrows before him, but in that time, he knew only victory. He would reach the Tor, and he would reach it first.
The line of Boateng and Tymoshchuk were faced with three oncoming columns of cavalry whose oncoming speed was such that there was no time for coordination. The commanders moved with instinct and moved out in one simultaneous motion. Boateng went for the Spaniard Mata, and Tymoshchuk for the nearer Kalou. They knew then, as they engaged their chosen foes, that the battle’s fate rested with Neuer at the gate.
Drogba spurred to the front of his column and curled its racing thunder to strike the very center of Neuer’s formation. The ground seemed to curve up beneath him as if the world had begun to turn faster in its heavenly spin, pulling Drogba to the Tor and its protector with all the inertia of a hurricane. He raised his sword to line with the attached gaze of the German defender.
Moments away from collision Drogba roared as he’d done at the day’s start, it came from deep within him - borne of all the years of service and resolution, from all the missed chances and dashed expectations. As his arm came down to strike, the moment stretched and Drogba knew. He knew that Chelsea would finally take their glory denied, and it would come at his hand.