Johan Cruyff wanted Salomon Kalou to be Dutch before he became unsung hero at Chelsea alongside idol Didier Drogba, then Hertha loved him until scandal – and it all started alongside Liverpool idol Dirk Kuyt

There’s a special place reserved in Chelsea history for Salomon Kalou.

Even if it’s not right on the top shelf alongside modern greats like Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba, he’s still there.

Kalou, Raul Meireles and Jose Bosingwa all have Champions League winners’ medals

In many years, when those who actually watched him play aren’t around to tell the tale, his Wikipedia page and highlights reel on YouTube might actually afford him legendary status.

Indeed, the former Ivory Coast forward won absolutely everything at Stamford Bridge, featuring and scoring frequently during six glorious years at the club.

This is a player who was cherished by Johan Cruyff at the start of his career and then adored by Hertha Berlin fans at the end.

It got us thinking, was he… actually quite good?

After all, nobody turns up to a Champions League final with a spider cut into the back of their head unless they’ve got something about them.

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Ahead of Chelsea’s return to Europe’s biggest stage against Manchester City on Saturday, it’s impossible not to reflect on that Munich night in 2012 with a sense of bewilderment.

Kalou, alongside the likes of Bosingwa and debutant Ryan Bertrand, toppled a Bayern Munich side which had Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

With John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Meireles all either suspended or injured, a depleted and, let’s face it, average Chelsea side pulled off a miracle.

They finished sixth in the Premier League, behind Newcastle United, that season.

Perhaps Kalou has always been a victim of that narrative, put among a cluster of players who were carried through that period by real Chelsea legends.

Kalou actually had Chelsea’s one good chance on the night, forcing a rare save from Neuer

In truth, he was never rated that highly in England.

But that wasn’t the case everywhere else.

Starting out as a young star at Feyenoord, Kalou left a lasting impression alongside Liverpool hero Dirk Kuyt.

They were affectionately known as ‘K2’, apparently a reference to a Belgian pop band called ‘K3’.

Kalou won the Johan Cruyff award in 2005, earmarking him as the most promising young talent in the Eredivisie, and the Dutch legend himself was a fan.

Who knew these two once formed a deadly strike partnership?

As a 20-year-old, Kalou applied for fast-track naturalisation to become a Dutch citizen so he could play for the Netherlands at the 2006 World Cup.

Despite being born in the Ivory Coast, like his brother Bonaventure Kalou, who represented The Elephants at the time, Kalou was wanted by Dutch national team coach Marco van Basten and Cruyff also supported the application.

It was all the more controversial because Holland were actually drawn in the same group as the Ivory Coast at the 2006 World Cup – and insurance company Centraal Beheer made a television advert in which Kalou represents the Netherlands’ rivals Germany against them.

In the end, he didn’t go to the tournament after his application was rejected and he turned down the chance to represent his country of birth until 2007.

The saga was a major factor in his decision to join Chelsea in 2006, where he would play alongside the most famous man in the Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba.

Kalou admitted he brought a camera to his first training session for Jose Mourinho’s side, where he would rub shoulders with aforementioned legends.

Kalou got to play alongside a national treasure in his homeland for six years

One Premier League title, one League Cup, four FA Cups and a Champions League later, he and Drogba left as free agents in 2012.

They were something closer to equals by that point, although Blues supporters barely noticed Kalou’s departure amid the Drogba farewell.

Drogba was Chelsea’s hero in Munich, but Kalou played his part, scoring the crucial away goal against Benfica in the quarter-final.

Redemption was his too, given he was one of the five who scored their penalties when Chelsea lost in the final to Manchester United in 2008.

And he actually managed to go one better than Drogba for his country, winning that elusive Africa Cup of Nations title in 2015 after his teammate retired.

But what of Kalou’s domestic career after he left Chelsea? He was only 27, after all.

A 27-year-old Kalou on a free transfer? Not bad at all

He spent the next two seasons at Lille, finishing runner-up to Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the Ligue 1 Golden Boot race in 2013/14.

And there was still time to become a bit of a legend in Germany, too.

Hertha Berlin signed the Ivorian in 2014 and his 2015/16 campaign is written in Bundesliga folklore.

Kalou’s 14 league goals and influential performances almost helped the German club seal an unlikely Champions League berth, before an end-of-season capitulation.

During that term, he actually became the first player in history to record double digits in a single campaign in England, France and Germany’s top-flights.

Kalou became something of a cult hero in Berlin

But despite earning cult hero status in Berlin, his six-year career at the club came to an acrimonious end last year.

At the height of the pandemic, he appeared to make light of the situation upon Hertha’s return to training, live streaming their tests and breaking social distancing guidelines.

After subsequently being released by the club, he now plies his trade in the Brazilian top-flight with Botafogo.

There are clearly those out there who still think, at 35, Kalou is a special talent – and his record suggests he always was.