Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Getting so Drog tired

Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba's story is the template for the African footballer fairytale — the kid who left the Ivory Coast to live with an uncle in France, who later slept on a rug with five other siblings and his parents in a one-room apartment in the Paris suburbs.

He should represent just about everything that makes football great, its rewards for talent and its rigorous meritocracy.

So why is it that when the chips are down and the pressure is on, Drogba reacts with such appalling misjudgement?

Drogba disgraced himself in the aftermath of the draw with Barcelona on Wednesday night. Those at Chelsea who would seek to move the club away from the old accusations that they bully and intimidate when they do not get their way will have winced at Drogba's pursuit of Tom Henning Ovrebo, however poor the referee's performance.

It was an embarrassment and for all the rage that Drogba sought to portray there was something weirdly staged about his behaviour.

Earlier, before he was substituted, Drogba had pulled up limping in front of the home bench, giving up on a chase for the ball and prompting Guus Hiddink to tell his assistants to prepare a substitution.

By the time that Juliano Belletti was ready to come on, Drogba appeared to be surreptitiously trying to tell his manager that really he was okay to carry on but Hiddink was convinced and in the 72nd minute, Chelsea's leading striker was off the field.

Drogba is understood to be unhappy with his substitution. There is some irony in the possibility that Drogba's notorious willingness to go down hurt in dubious circumstances could have eventually led to him fooling his own manager into substituting him in one of the biggest games in his career.

His finger-jabbing exercise with Ovrebo at the end of the game was unpleasant and unnecessary but what happened once the referee had gone down the tunnel was just plain odd.

So desperate was he to make his point, Drogba sought out the Sky Sports mobile camera. For a man who could have had his pick of any of the scores of press or television crews who waited in vain for him after the match, this was an unusually pro-active media strategy from the famously publicity-shy Drogba.

It looked like a man a little too eager to show how much he cared, with Drogba perhaps mindful of the negative reaction to his red card in Moscow last year.

It appeared this time that Drogba was so desperate to show Chelsea fans he felt their pain although losing the plot was a novel way to show it. His flick at Carlos Tevez in the Luzhniki stadium last year was silly and demonstrated a carelessness on a night when keeping his cool was everything

To say he overcompensated by trying to show how unhappy he was this time is something of an understatement.

Reconciling these aspects of Drogba's personality has always been problematic — like trying to reconcile that the man who goes down in agony from the most innocuous challenge with the man who bulldozes through defenders when he has the slightest sniff of goal.

Drogba is, by all accounts, a decent bloke although he bears the bruises of a player who was only lauded relatively late in his career and seems never to have shaken off the injustice of having to wait so long.

He points out in his autobiography that while Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were making the breakthrough in top-flight French football he was still kicking his heels at non-league Levallois.

On Wednesday night Drogba had to endure his contemporary Henry reaching another Champions League final while he, at 31, faces up to the prospect that he might never get there again.

When, in the summer, Drogba was again minded to get out of Chelsea, and the club were prepared to let him go there were no suitable takers for the striker whose contract expires next summer.

It is a dangerous dead end for a player of Drogba's undoubted ability and brittle temperament to find himself.