herald

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Petulant Drogba sets goal standard

DIDIER Drogba is as bright and generous as he is melodramatic and tempestuous. He is the striker you want on your team, and the player you love to hate.

He is a walking mass of contradictions and that was never more apparent than yesterday when his Chelsea team-mates thought about throttling him, but ended up giving him a hug.

"That's what Didier's like," Frank Lampard said afterwards. Hugely talented and utterly infuriating.

Each year Chelsea have decided that Drogba's strengths outweigh the downsides but there is always a moment when they question their own judgment; his red card in the Champions League final in 2008, his wild-eyed rant at a Norwegian referee last year.

This season it came yesterday when, with the title yet to be secured, Drogba effectively went on strike for 15 minutes.

His tantrum, when Lampard refused to let him take the penalty that put Chelsea 2-0 up, and saw Gary Caldwell dismissed, had to be seen in its full 15-minute meltdown to be to believed.

Outraged that he might miss the Golden Boot for top Premier League scorer -- he and Wayne Rooney were tied on 26 each at kick-off -- Drogba removed himself from the action despite the exhortations from team-mates and the bench. When someone gave him the ball, he shot disinterestedly from about 40 yards. Both teams were playing with 10 men.

Complaining

At half-time he was still complaining, so much so that Carlo Ancelotti had to tell him to shut up and start playing football.

A second half hat-trick duly followed, allowing Drogba to depart with the match ball and the Golden Boot as well as his championship medal. Through his joy, there was also a sheepish apology.

"I wasn't happy at first," Drogba admitted of the penalty incident, "but I realised on the pitch that I was making a big mistake." Quite where the petulant streak comes from perhaps Drogba himself does not know.

It is contradicted by his behaviour off the pitch, where he sets an example that should be followed by more of his fellow professionals.

He is a UN ambassador but it is not only his time that he gives generously -- he is pouring millions of pounds of his own money into a new hospital in Abidjan, the largest city of Ivory Coast.

"When the doors of this hospital open for the first time, it will be the greatest achievement of my life," he has said.

He will be the big African star of the first World Cup in that continent and has made it on to the cover of Time as one of "the 100 most influential people in the world", which may be pushing it but reflects his soaring off-field status.

Drogba certainly remains a hugely influential member of this Chelsea team, even given the advance of Nicolas Anelka.

The fans whom Drogba sprayed with champagne at the final whistle voted him their player of this championship-winning season and, while Chelsea are looking to spend big money on a striker this summer -- with Alexandre Pato top of the list if Fernando Torres is priced out of the market -- they are not looking forward to the day when Drogba has to be replaced.

Chelsea have been hugely dependent on him ever since Jose Mourinho signed him, never more so than this season. Lampard has been superb once more, but it was Drogba who most regarded as the only real challenger to Rooney for individual honours.

Accolades

Clearly those accolades matter hugely to him, but one could not help wondering yesterday whether the Golden Boot crossed Rooney's mind, or whether he was too preoccupied with the fate of his team. Drogba cared -- boy, he cared -- about that Golden Boot and he finishes the season with 29 strikes, the deadliest forward in the League.

But when the trophy presentation at Stamford Bridge was delayed yesterday so that a pram could be pushed out of the tunnel, one had to wonder whether Drogba was inside. Goals and tantrums -- no one does them better.

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