DIDIER DROGBA INTERVIEW

Drogba defiant after indiscretion in Moscow

October 23, 2008
By Kevin Palmer
(Archive)

Spending ten minutes in the company of Didier Drogba leaves you in little doubt that he slots neatly into the role of the stereotypical footballer.

Didier Drogba
GettyImages / FranckFifeDidier Drogba trudges off the pitch in Moscow
There is a theory that the millionaires who perform at the top level of the game live in a bubble that leaves them oblivious to criticism and blame when they make crucial mistakes and Drogba is a shining example of the genre as he reflects on his role in last season's Champions League final in Moscow.

As Chelsea's lead striker made his way down the tunnel three minutes before the end of last May's European showpiece occasion, his last act in a Chelsea shirt appeared to have been ignominious.

Banished to the dressing room for a petulant red card that denied his side one of their penalty takers for the imminent shoot out, his moment of madness in slapping Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic saw him cast as Chelsea's villain after their brush with destiny.

As the often brilliant and frequently infuriating Ivory Coast striker had long stated his intention to leave Chelsea last summer, few Blues fans had any sympathy for their former hero in his moment of shame.

Had he stayed on the field for those additional 180 seconds, Drogba could just have realised his lifelong goal of becoming a Champions League winner had he played out what he expected to be his final game in a blue shirt to its natural conclusion. He could even have been the man to fire the winning penalty that would have secured him a place in football folklore. How he would have liked that status.

Instead, he watched from the sidelines as skipper John Terry filled the void and missed the kick that would have given the striker who bailed out on his team a medal he had barely earned.

An act of childish petulance might be acceptable from a young man swept away in the emotion of a Champions League climax, but 30-year-old Drogba should have known better and he deserved to be singled out as the fall guy for Chelsea's failure.

With that in mind, you may expect some remorse from Drogba as he looks back on that fateful night in Moscow, yet his self-obsessed reflection gives an insight into just how this complex and confusing character ticks.

The English Football Association are currently considering whether to take action over a claim in his autobiography that he 'wished' he had punched Vidic instead of slapping him, yet he saw no reason to withdraw such inflammatory statements when he spoke to ESPNsoccernet.

"It's easy for people to blame me for Chelsea's Champions League final defeat," begins Drogba. "I can take it but I think I gave my best as I have always done since I've been here when I'm on the pitch because I want to be the best.

Didier Drogba
GettyImages / LaurenceGriffithsDidier Drogba is injured against Cluj

"I want to be the number one. Sometimes I'm successful and other days I do too much like I did to get this red card. I apologised to my fans, but that's life. People can make mistakes and have to move on.

"You have to understand I was not feeling so well by the end of the Champions League final. I was a little bit alone up front and also I was playing against very good defenders. It meant I couldn't do my best game. This was very frustrating.

"Anyway, the worst moment for me in Moscow was not my red card. You may remember I hit the post and that was far more upsetting because it was my only chance to win the game and it was so close.

"The red card happened and it was a difficult period for the team but also for me because I really wanted to win in Moscow after all we did against Liverpool in the semi-final. It would have meant a lot for me to win this competition, but I have to try again now."

How easy it must be to believe the biggest game in world club football should have evolved around you, but thus is the mindset of this superstar. His favourite word is clearly 'I', yet Didier is not the type to make any excuse for such indulgence and he must have relished the chance to sit down and pen a book all about himself last summer.

To the rest of the watching world, the 2008 Champions League Final was a classic game that will be remembered for many years thanks to the dramatic shoot-out at its conclusion, but Chelsea's No.11 had envisaged en entirely different script featuring him in the leading role.

The only flaw in his argument is while this powerhouse hitman can be one of the toughest forwards to mark in world football, he can also be ineffective on the days when his mind wanders and he lacks commitment.

His statements last year that he would leave Chelsea in the summer left a cloud over him for most of the campaign and you suspect he would have taken his talents elsewhere if the interest from AC Milan and Barcelona had any foundation. Instead, he is left to backtrack and state he is happy in London after all.

"Losing the Champions League final was an extra reason for me to stay at Chelsea, but I had made my mind up to stick with this club before Moscow," he now claims. "I spoke with some people around me we decided this was the best thing for me.

"I have said why I wanted to leave and why I decided to stay in the end, so the matter is finished and my dream is to finally win the Champions League with Chelsea. We came so close last season, just one penalty away, so we have great desire this time.

Didier Drogba
GettyImages / MikeHewittDidier Drogba: Back from injury but out of the team.

"I have no problem staying at Chelsea. My decision was easy in the end. This club wanted me to stay and because I'm one of their best players and this made me feel happy. Yes I want a new challenge, but I don't have to move to get it."

Clearly Drogba struggles to find motivation for domestic league games against Stoke and Hull, yet he is aching for Champions League glory and his performance in the semi-final against Liverpool last season proved as much.

Oozing with power and finishing ability, Drogba had too much for Jamie Carragher and company on the night and his considerable presence would be welcomed when the same two sides resume their rivalry at Stamford Bridge this Sunday.

Still short of fitness after what seemed to be a serious knee injury picked up against CFR Cluj in the Champions League earlier this month, Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari has hinted he could make a surprise return for the top of the table clash with the Reds and Drogba is confident of returning to top form sooner than expected.

"I want to be back very soon and things are going well," he adds. "There was a big concern when I felt the knee ligaments were damaged, but it was not as bad as it seemed. I was frustrated for a few hours after the Cluj game, but then you focus on getting back and being in top form when it matters this season.

"I feel as if Chelsea have the extra edge you need to win trophies like the Champions League and the Premier League. We have a great manager in Scolari and some additional players who give us a little more. Also, I want to win things for the fans here because they love me and I love them."

Finding a Chelsea fan with any warm feelings for Didier Drogba after his defining night in Moscow would have been a tough task, but football followers have a habit of forgiving their heroes with haste and this is where one of Africa's greatest ever players is more fortunate than most.

Didier Drogba - The Autobiography, is available in all good book stores now.