Drogba 'regrets' Blues exit comments
The injuries at Chelsea mount. John Terry underwent surgery on his damaged knee yesterday, and will be out for up to three weeks, the state of Ashley Cole's ankle rules him out for a month – while the club has started disciplinary action against Didier Drogba over the wounds inflicted by his extraordinary outburst.
The striker was also forced into issuing a statement regretting what he said in an explosive interview with France Football – in which he claimed that "something is broken" at Chelsea – although Drogba appeared to remain adamant that he still wanted to quit the club.
In the statement Drogba said: "On reflection, I regret making the comments I made in a recent interview public at this time. I am a Chelsea player and will be 100 per cent committed and supportive to my manager, my team-mates and the club. I will not be discussing my future any further until I meet privately with the club at the end of the season."
The insertion of the words "supportive to my manager" was a clear attempt by Chelsea officials to bolster the position of Avram Grant – even if the Israeli looked more than a little befuddled by the storm yesterday. At one stage he said: "Now you know the truth. There's no problem in the dressing room."
But further details of the striker's interview with the magazine also emerged yesterday with Drogba admitting that he came close to going on strike immediately after Mourinho went. "I thought very hard about not playing against Valencia in Europe so I could avoid making myself ineligible for another side this season," he said. "When you are as disappointed as I have been then you sometimes take impulsive decisions."
In the event Drogba played – and scored – in the Champions League tie and Chelsea are also acutely aware that he is an emotional character as well as one who was closely aligned to Mourinho, saying he felt like an "orphan" now the Portuguese was gone. Drogba also accused owner Roman Abramovich of betraying the former manager. The striker even said he had not been able to look some players in the eye because he was so angry with them.
Chelsea would be foolish to under-estimate the will of Drogba – who said he had been taking Italian and Spanish lessons for "a little while". There were also echoes of the scenario that surrounded William Gallas, who eventually forced his way out of Chelsea. Despite the club's protestations that Drogba has a contract until 2010 they will fear a repeat of the messy way in which Gallas ended his career at Stamford Bridge. It will also not go unnoticed that the pair are friends and share the same agent.
The first casualty of the fall-out from Drogba's interview was the press launch of a charity, anti-racism song, called "Skin", which Drogba was due to attend yesterday along with Michael Essien. Chelsea, however, pulled the 29-year-old out of the event fearing he would face further questions about his interview. The club also barred reporters from asking Essien any "football questions" and said they would be asked to leave if they did so.
Matters were hardly less clear when Grant spoke. He professed to not having read the interview – although he admitted to having been given a precis – and added: "When I have seen it, I can tell you. I cannot say anything until I speak to him [Drogba]. I cannot tell you something because I read it in the paper."
Chelsea held their first training session after the international break yesterday afternoon with Drogba later boarding the plane to the north-east for today's league match against Middlesbrough. However before then he met with Chelsea officials and Grant, and discussions were held with chief executive Peter Kenyon, to talk about what he said. Drogba was told he will be disciplined although it's unclear whether that may result in a fine.
Chelsea also managed to wring out the statement but didn't attempt to deny that Drogba was unhappy. Grant said: "I know that it's not the first time that he has said it. Didier has said it himself that he wants to leave Chelsea." Grant also claimed that he had asked all the players to speak to him if they had "anything negative" to say.
The injuries to Terry and Cole – Salomon Kalou is also out with a strained hamstring – will test Chelsea further although Ricardo Carvalho is now fit. Wayne Bridge is also returning and despite the apparent optimism over Cole it's thought his injury is still to be assessed.
The club's ranks have been bolstered with the appointment of Henk ten Cate as Grant's assistant to work alongside Steve Clarke. Given the Dutchman is being paid £2.1m a year, having left Ajax, much is expected of him. "Our vision is to play efficient but stylish football," said Grant. "We need people who can do it. And Henk can do it on the pitch."