Drogba tries to calm storm

Apology for TV rant may not be enough as Chelsea await Uefa's punishment
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The Independent Football

Didier Drogba yesterday issued a public apology for his furious outburst after Chelsea's Champions League elimination by Barcelona on Wednesday night, but the Chelsea striker stopped short of saying sorry directly to the Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo. Instead he apologised to television viewers for shouting an obscenity directly into the Sky Sports camera.

Drogba, who had to be pushed away from Ovrebo by the Chelsea stewards, said: "I was very upset at what happened during the game, but having seen the pictures on TV I accept that I overreacted. I also fully accept that the language I used did not set a good example for those watching at home, especially children. I regret that in the heat of the moment I let out my incredible frustration and disappointment in this way, and for that I apologise.""

The head of the Norwegian referees Rune Pedersen, who accompanied Ovrebo on the flight back to Oslo, said that the controversial official, who was the subject of alleged death threats, had told him he thought he got the big decisions right on Wednesday night. "We went through the game together [on Wednesday evening]," Pedersen said. "Our view is that he got most of it right."

Pedersen added that Ovrebo would not do the same as the Swedish referee Anders Frisk who retired after death threats following his performance in a Chelsea defeat to Barcelona in 2005. "I don't think he's got any problems with it. Of course we take deathtreaths seriously, but Tom Henning is not walking around afraid. This has happened to referees before and it has ended up not being so serious.

"Tom Henning will, as far as I know him, come back stronger from this. It's not possible to compare this to what happened to Anders Frisk. I think that was more complex."

It is understood that there were further recriminations involving Drogba in the dressing room after the match when he complained to Guus Hiddink that he should not have been substituted. The Chelsea striker complained to the interim coach that he had not been injured when he was called to the bench in the 72nd minute to be replaced by Juliano Belletti despite the fact that he had been limping before then.

The apology from Droga was issued yesterday evening as Chelsea awaited the verdict from Uefa. The club hope that it would mitigate against any punishment that the governing body might impose on Drogba for his pursuit of Ovrebo as the Norwegian official attempted to get off the pitch. A ban would affect Drogba's availability for next season's Champions League group games, if he is still at the club.

The Uefa procedure is to wait for a match report from Ovrebo before taking action and there was no official response from the governing body last night. In the meantime, Chelsea sought to distance themselves from the more unsavoury aspects of the fallout from Wednesday night. The club condemned the death threats allegedly made against Ovrebo and said that they would take action against anyone proven to have been involved. A club spokesman added: "However we would stress that we have received no evidence that Chelsea fans are involved in any of the alleged threats reported. As a result of these reports we have also been in contact with the police who likewise had not received any complaints."

The club also convinced the full-back Jose Bosingwa to retract comments that Ovrebo was a "thief". The remarks, made to Portuguese television, by the player in the aftermath of the game would also not have helped Chelsea's case with Uefa. Bosingwa said: "We were all very disappointed and frustrated after the game, but I regret describing the referee as a thief. Having had time to reflect I would like to withdraw those comments."

Mindful of the disastrous fall-out that accompanied Jose Mourinho's comments about Frisk after a red card for Drogba against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2005, Chelsea sought the diplomatic route yesterday. A club spokesman said: "Chelsea welcomes Didier's statement which was made honestly and after reflection. We are all acutely aware of the responsibilities that lie with both the club and its players towards setting a good example as role models.

"While it is clear that some of the events last night were regrettable, they occurred only because of the high emotions and frustrations which arose from the disappointment of a controversial defeat in such an important game. We made representations to Uefa immediately after the game and we await their comments following a review of the match officials' report."

Nevertheless there was no personal apology for Ovrebo from Drogba, Bosingwa or Chelsea for the appalling way in which he was treated in the aftermath of the game. The 42-year-old, who works a psychologist, made three decisions in which he ignored penalty appeals from Chelsea including one handball from the Barcelona defender Gerard Pique which even the player himself confessed to.

It is a tricky situation for Chelsea and Uefa who both have a vested interest in protecting Ovrebo from the worst instincts of some elements of the Chelsea support. Frisk retired after threats made to him following the game four years ago which reflected badly on both Chelsea and Uefa.