Belfast Telegraph

Chelsea's Didier Drogba: a saint or a sinner?

By Steven Beacom

Didier Drogba — discuss. Superhero or villain? Fabulous or frustrating? Champ or cheat? Dynamic or disgraceful? King of Stamford Bridge or a footballing drama queen?

The truth is he is all of the above — and more besides.

The 34-year-old Ivory Coast forward is an enigma.

It's a word that captures Drogba perfectly — a person of puzzling or contradictory character.

On a football pitch he can be a saint or a sinner.

Both sides of his contradictory character were on show on Wednesday night as Chelsea stunned Barcelona at the Bridge to win 1-0 in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final.

It was a result that has given Chelsea genuine hope of producing an almighty shock and knocking out the finest football team ever.

And it has kept their dreams alive of winning the trophy that owner Roman Abramovich covets most.

Of course it was Drogba who scored the winning goal against the current European champions, providing the finish after a sweeping move which started when Frank Lampard dispossessed the great Lionel Messi.

Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes, as he is prone to do, made a hash of stopping Drogba's left foot strike, but no matter as the ball entered the net the Catalan giants were left to curse one of the few men on the planet who they have trouble coping with.

He's delivered before when facing Barcelona, though last night's goal was his most important to date against the magical men from Camp Nou.

As he wheeled away in the direction of the corner flag, the jubilant Chelsea supporters saluted their favourite front man.

Blues fans may be willing £50m flop Fernando Torres to score every time he gets within 30 yards of the opposition goal, but there is no doubt in their minds that Didier remains Chelsea's top Drog.

He got the nod over Torres for the meeting with Barca for two reasons: Roberto Di Matteo's canny and correct assumption that the visitors hate playing against him and because of a magnificent goalscoring display in Chelsea's 5-1 victory over Spurs in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley a few days before.

It was a vintage performance. He was virtually unplayable with his strength, desire and ability blitzing bewildered Tottenham defenders.

Since 2004 when Jose Mourinho signed him from Marseille we've seen him batter opponents. The fee eight years ago was considered over the top at £24 million. With his goals, assists and influence on the team that price has proved a snip with Chelsea winning multiple league

titles and Cups. Even now at the age of 34, few forwards on the planet are better than the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations when he is on game.

But while he can be irresistible, he can also be incredibly irritating with his pitiful, petulant, childish acts. Against Barcelona he spent as much time rolling around the ground as he did on his feet.

He is 6ft 2 and 13 stone of pure muscle and athleticism, yet he falls down more than a baby learning to take its first steps.

Barca defenders only had to look at him on Wednesday and he put on a show of theatrics better placed in the West End.

Some might say Barca players dive around like Tom Daley, but they are not in Drogba's league.

Pep Guardiola's stars found it all extremely annoying. It disrupted them and they couldn't get their rhythm going as Drogba writhed around like he had been shot only to leap about like a gazelle after some time consuming and needless treatment.

Mission accomplished then.

Whether he will get away with it next week remains to be seen.

Chelsea will need the superhero not the villain in the Nou Camp if they are to reach the final. If Drogba dons his cape the Blues might just make it to Munich in May.

Belfast Telegraph

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