Well, you know the scene: Chelsea vs. Barcelona; Premiership champions vs. European champions; Drogba up front, Andy Gray on vocals. Sit back and enjoy.
“Look at that! that’s a great individual goal, he just manufactures a yard for himself and… whoa, supah strayke!”
That’s what happened. Didier manufactured a yard. That’s what he did, and Barcelona weren’t quick enough to disassemble that yard, and consequently Drogba scored, with a “supah strayke.”
That, in a nutshell, was last night’s game. Even the taciturn Rijkaard couldn’t add any more, “Drogba made the difference.” he said, but then again (thankfully) not everyone can be blessed with Andy’s way with words.
But there was more at stake than such a summary might suggest, the proof of which came through in the players actions not only on the pitch but off it as well.
We knew from the very outset that this was going to be a fiery match. For starters it was debatable that the two teams should even have to play each other in the group stages. Pitting the two favourites against one another so early on goes against the entire point of the seeding process, and yet some technicality about past performances in the trophy caused this miscalculation. Still, let’s not complain too much, as it turns out it may be a blessing in disguise since, as long as they qualify, both teams would be pushed apart in the knock-out stages.
Secondly, Barça’s result against Werder Bremen meant that although this would have been a passionate game anyway, they needed a result for safety’s sake, and so would come out fighting.
Lastly the previous performances by the two boys “bought to win the Champions League” Ballack and Shevchenko have opened them up for criticism and high expectation. Throw in the return to the Bridge of Eidur Gudjohnsen and basically you’ve got a football dramatist’s dream scenario. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone in having money on both Shevchenko and Eidur to score.
So, considering the importance of the game and the hype that approached it, to have the double misfortune of Saturday’s injuries suddenly heaped upon Chelsea seemed remarkable. I’m not lying when I say that had I been playing Championship Manager I’d have reset to the last saved point and replayed against Reading. Some may call that cheating, I call it protecting my investment in time.
And yet Jose did not have the reset privilege and instead had to rally a team in a time of need.
The fashion in which the defence relentlessly pursued Barcelona’s attack and continuously protected the keeper set the tone for the game. Terry, Carvalho and Boulahrouz were relentless in chasing down the ball, and even the attacking propensity of Ashley Cole was retrained in favour of snuffing out Messi’s threat. Just as importantly Ronaldinho was to all purposes marked out of the game as Chelsea’s midfield dropped deep and worked hard to keep possession.
It wasn’t a spectacular performance of open play and fast paced passing, because to invite that sort of game against Barcelona would be suicidal. Instead it was a team performance where grit replaced flair. It was the sort of performance that you need to keep out the defending champions.
Of course, once you’ve kept the clean sheet, you need someone to step up and knock in the winning goal. Someone to deliver that “supah strayke.”
Shevchenko is still to find his top form, but had more chances in this game than I’ve seen in his last three, which can only be a good sign for a striker. But cometh the hour, cometh the slap in the face as to who I should’ve put my money on…
He may have denied it in the interview, and he may try his best to keep it quiet in his daily life, but as an investigative reporter I feel it my duty to the public to ask: is Didier Drogba in fact Superman?
Well, let’s start rationally. Firstly we should examine: if Superman existed in the real world, what would he be like?
Well, I’ll tell you one thing, if I were Superman and had his superpowers I wouldn’t use a lowly reporter as my secret identity day job. I’d be an international sportsman, a footballer, basically I’d be a premiership striker. And another thing, I’d give myself a cool sounding alliterative name, you know, because that’s cool, like Peter Parker, or Clark Kent, or Didier Drogba, something like that.
What else? Well, if I were too good, people might think that I actually was Superman, which is no good for a secret identity, so I’d have to make sure that either I made everything look like a fluke, or better still, that I just bumbled around most of the time, goofing up and generally making a pig’s ear of things until everyone thought I was lame, and just when the critical time came, when, say, my goalies were both in hospital, I’d turn on my superskills. That’s what I’d do. Also, just to be on the safe side, I’d say unprompted that I wasn’t Superman. That’d put a line under it.
But we’re not children, we know this is reality and that Superman is a fairytale… and yet I put it to you: in the real world, if Superman existed, would we even know? or would he keep his secret so hidden that when he saved someone’s life all they knew was that they’d had a lucky escape? Hmm? For the sake of a bit of peace and quiet, Superman can quite happily race around the world saving people from accidents but being unnoticed at the same time. After all, like a good referee, if you do something well enough, people won’t know that you’ve done anything at all.
As I walked home last night I looked up to the sky to see if there was a Superman flying above. Just then I felt a jolt and stepped forward. I’d missed walking in a dog poo by inches. “Thank you Didier,” I whispered, “thank you from us all.”