Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

James Lawton: Drogba gets up off the ground to summon old heroics

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea clutches his leg during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Carles Puyol of Barcelona talks to Didier Drogba of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Josep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona looks on as Didier Drogba of Chelsea lies on the ground during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea closes down Carles Puyol of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea reacts during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Gary Cahill of Chelsea encourages his team during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea hugs Lionel Messi of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Barcelona striker Lionel Messi
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Referee Felix Brych of Germany gives a decision during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea looks on with Victor Valdes of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Referee Felix Brych of Germany talks to Carles Puyol of Barcelona after a challenge on Didier Drogba of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Carles Puyol of Barcelona reacts during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea battles for the ball with Carles Puyol of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea battles for the ball with Javier Mascherano of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona is challenged by Raul Meireles of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Andres Iniesta of Barcelona is challenged by Frank Lampard of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea gives a thumbs up to Referee Felix Brych of Germany during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona is closed down by Frank Lampard of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona is challenged by Frank Lampard of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona breaks during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Josep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona shouts instructions during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea celebrates with teammate Juan Mata (R) after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea shoots to score the opening goal as Adriano Correia (R) of Barcelona closes induring the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Gary Cahill of Chelsea and Andres Iniesta of Barcelona compete for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Josep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Josep Guardiola (L), coach of Barcelona looks on with Roberto Di Matteo, caretaker manager of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona shoots at goal only to hit the bar during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona takes on Mikel of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea talks to referee Felix Brych during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Ramires of Chelsea is challenged by Daniel Alves of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona is closed down by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Raul Meireles of Chelsea is challenged by Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea makes a break during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: John Terry of Chelsea exchanges shirts with Lionel Messi of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Sergio Busquets of Barcelona goes past Mikel (L) and Jose Bosingwa of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Didier Drogba of Chelsea talks to referee Felix Brych after the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona talks to referee Felix Brych during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona is challenged by Raul Meireles of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Cesc Fabregas (L) and Lionel Messi of Barcelona look dejected after the Chelsea goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Frank Lampard of Chelsea heads the ball clear as Thiago Alcantara of Barcelona closes in during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: (L-R) John Terry, Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel applaud the fans following their teams 1-0 victory during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona looks dejected during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: The shot from Lionel Messi of Barcelona is blocked by John Terry of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Sergio Busquets (ground) of Barcelona is consoled by teammate Carles Puyol during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona takes on Gary Cahill (L) and Mikel of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona takes on Mikel of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Barcelona players walk off dejected after the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Gary Cahill of Chelsea challenges Alexis Sanchez of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Referee Felix Brych talks to Carles Puyol of Barcelona after a challenge on Didier Drogba of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
Barcelona fans in the stands prior to kick-off during the UEFA Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London
Barcelona fans in the stands prior to kick-off during the UEFA Champions League match at Stamford Bridge, London
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Carles Puyol of Barcelona looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Lionel Messi of Barcelona is challenged by Raul Meireles of Chelsea during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: Roberto Di Matteo, caretaker manager of Chelsea gestures with Josep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18: The Chelsea team pose for the cameras prior to kickoff during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Chelsea and Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

You couldn't know for sure whether it was an act of provocation or a serious statement about Chelsea's ill-considered potential to not only embarrass but also beat possibly the most celebrated team in the history of football.

Such ambiguity so often lurks at the shoulder of Didier Drogba. One minute he is the Lion of Africa and then a rather self-indulgent pussycat. He gave us both versions on the way to the moment he landed the blow that was surely heard all over Europe.



He sprawled on the ground and was at his most theatrical after a futile aerial duel with Carles Puyol. He took a wrong turning when in the early going the Barcelona defence seemed to be stretched out passively before him – and with each slip from the extraordinary level of ferocity he has produced in recent games you wondered if his temporary manager Roberto di Matteo was questioning his decision to keep faith with the 34-year-old warrior rather than turn to Fernando Torres.



It was speculation that died with the goal that gathered in the best of Chelsea's attempt to produce what so many believed was beyond their dwindling powers. Frank Lampard, another of those old Jose Mourinho soldiers celebrating their survival of the AVB project, set the tone perfectly when he stripped the ball from, of all people, Lionel Messi, and sent Ramires scampering down the left. It was a one-two combination which threw luminous Barça against the ropes and there was Drogba, a lion once more, stabbing home with his left foot.



Inevitably, the Didier contribution continued to swing from the hardest, cleanest action to those moments when he seems intent on parodying the most fearless and dynamic of his work. Early in the second half he enraged that most pugnacious of Catalans, Puyol, when he rolled on the ground in what seemed to be quite advanced agony. Yet when he was back on his feet there was still another mood swing. He charged at the Barça defence with a force and an ambition that might have been distilled from the rage he displayed three years ago when his opponents rode here on a tide of official incompetence to a Champions League final with Manchester United in Rome. That ruined Drogba's hope of redemption from his dismissal in the Moscow final with United a year earlier, when he slapped the face of Nemanja Vidic in the climactic, withering tension.



Last night, though, it was as though Drogba was reaching out again for the greatest of his ambition. His commitment was as huge as his profile in the game, one that long before the end was plainly wearing at the composure of the champions of both Europe and the imagination of the football world.



He received a yellow card for a tackle on Messi and there was a moment when he wasn't somewhere near the heart of Chelsea's determination to agitate and harass the team who are not supposed to find themselves spilling on to the same frustrated level of their opponents.



That Messi should be one of those touched by the growing sense that Di Matteo, who these last few weeks was expected to conduct not a whole lot more than the last rites, was the ultimate measure of major achievement.



Not only were Barcelona denied that vital away goal, the one that enables champions of this quality to shrug their shoulders over the resistance of the locals and announce that the essentials of the job had been completed, they were also pushed to the edge of some very serious frustration.



They played some sweet football of course but when Cesc Fabregas, who had delayed a rather smug pre-game address about the growing crudity of Chelsea's game, came off in the second half he was wearing an expression which could not be said to be serene.



It was the statement of a team of superior quality but on this occasion well-matched ambition. Chelsea had only the chains of their widely anticipated decline to shed and they threw them off quite brilliantly.



There was a shortlist of heroes of imposing length and high on it no doubt was Ashley Cole, and there was, again, the relentless Lampard.



But then it was still hard to look too far beyond the force and the charisma of the man from the Ivory Coast. Di Matteo decided that he need the certainty of his aura, the strange but recurring force of his will. It was a brilliant decision and it may yet produce unimagined rewards.

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