THE TROUBLE WITH DIDIER

By Rob Hobson
May 7th, 2008

I’m sure you all remember the days when you could shrug off the effects of a hangover by 11, leaving you clear-eyed and bushy-tailed when your elders and betters were still groaning into their coffee. Nights spent curled up in the architectural equivalent of Skinner’s box, with your head hanging over the edge of someone’s sofa, meant nothing to your lithe physique. Blessed with the springy, elastic frame of youth, the mild discomfort of a contorted night’s sleep soon gave way to the promise of a new day. But no longer.Well, not for me. Age catches up with all of us. If a mate doesn’t have a spare room and a decent duvet, I’m catching the last train out of there. And so, in one of the most ham-fisted segues ever committed to the pages of a national broadsheet’s website, on to Didier Drogba, who will almost certainly be perusing the timetables this summer with a view to catching the sleeper service to Milan, Madrid, or one of the other… er… two clubs he said he wanted to play for. One of which is in Milan. Look, you get the idea.

That Didier is a fantastic – and could be a genuinely great – striker is not in doubt. But at 30 years of age, it’s only going to get harder to shrug off those mid-week European sleepovers. For all that the man appears to have been carved out of teak, it’s going to take more than a quick spray of Pledge to get him gleaming and match-fit for Saturday afternoon. Or Monday morning, or whenever else Sky and Setanta, in their infinite wisdom, decide to schedule the league games next season. Midnight Tuesday football, anyone?

So what to do with Didier? Lest we forget, the big fella signed a contract extension last year that keeps him at Chelsea for 3 more seasons. He’s been our most potent attacking weapon for the last two years, international commitments and injury notwithstanding. There is no finer exponent of what he does in world football. If you’re looking for a Big Man with a Good Touch, who just happens to be able to take free kicks, cross well and score from anywhere within 25 yards of goal while simultaneously holding off both Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyppia, the Drog is your man.

But, to the big question. Do the Chelsea fans love him?

After all, the man hasn’t exactly endeared himself to the faithful in the last year or so, now has he? Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the kind of person who would rather just nod along to the relentless beat of optimism that issues from the Chelsea Press Office, but there are ways and means of communicating your dissatisfaction. It’s a pity that so many footballers choose the mass media as their confessional of choice. When it comes in the middle of a season, with the club fighting for trophies, you can’t help but feel a little resentful on behalf of the 30 other players in the squad who are getting on with their job.

Having said that, I admire anyone who can wear their heart on their sleeve. Drogba is clearly an emotional man. When someone asks him a question, he says what’s on his mind. The recent interview with Michael Ballack in Der Spiegel was a paradigm of diplomatic understatement. John Terry is very on-message with his tub-thumping. Frank Lampard, articulate soul that he is, restricts himself to uncontroversial declarations of intent.

There is certainly a school of thought which suggests that the best thing to do is to sell the Drog for £20-odd million as soon as the final in Moscow is over, and put the money into a piggybank marked “David Villa” or “Kaka”. Then there’s the thinking which states that you’re not going to find a more effective out-and-out striker with Premiership nous anywhere in the world, including the Premiership.

So how do you feel about Didier Drogba? Chelsea fans, does his athleticism and unerring eye for goal stir your blood enough to make you forget that he hankers after a higher salary and condominium in Milano? Opposition fans: do you relish seeing your centrebacks play the most unplayable forward in the world, or are you just tired of the theatrics?

Over to you.

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