Chelsea striker Didier Drogba has confirmed he is leaving the Stamford Bridge club at the end of next month.
There has been much speculation over the 34-year-old’s future in recent weeks, with reports suggesting he was on the verge of agreeing a move to China.
The Blues official website confirmed today that Drogba will not be renewing his contract with the club, with the Ivory Coast international releasing a statement of gratitude to Chelsea fans, players and the club’s owner Roman Abramovich.
“I wanted to put an end to all the speculation and confirm that I am leaving Chelsea,” the statement read.
“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.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at the club especially Roman 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.”
Drogba will be leaving the club on a high after he made crucial contributions in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph at the weekend.
He scored a late equaliser and the winning penalty in the shoot out to give Chelsea their first Champions League title and make them the first club from London to win Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
“As a team we have accomplished so much and have won every single trophy possible,” he continued.
“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 wish the club all the best and continued success for the future - you will always be in my heart.”
Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourley paid tribute to the club “legend” and revealed the club had known Drogba was likely to leave on the expiry of his contract.
“Didier is undoubtedly a Chelsea legend and will always be part of the Chelsea family,” he said.
“He is certainly leaving on a high after Saturday night but he feels the time is right for a new challenge.
“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.
“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.”
Drogba spent eight years in west London and scored 157 goals in 341 appearances, making him the club’s fourth all-time leading scorer and the record holder for most European goals on 10.
His honours sheet reads: three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups and, most recently, a Champions league winners medal.