It may be true that in the nausea-inducing department some of Didier Drogba's more gruesome play-acting is hard to beat – but beat it we surely can if we dwell for a moment or two on the identity and track record of one of his heaviest critics this week.
Sergio Busquets, who operates in the second rank of luminosity in the Barcelona team believed by many to be just a step or two from ascension to heaven, claimed the role at Stamford Bridge this week. He is pictured yelling his contempt at the prone Drogba. Along with that of his team-mate Carles Puyol, his rage is incandescent.
But, por favor, Sergio, give us a few seconds while we roll back the reel a few frames to the occasion of another Champions League semi-final.
Assuming you still have one foot in the existence shared by most earthlings, you may suspect what's coming. It is of course the time when you performed quite as melodramatically as Drogba at any point of Wednesday's game, then peeked through your fingers to see if you had indeed provoked the referee into giving Internazionale's Thiago Motta a red card.
Heaven knows how many You-Tube hits have registered on this particularly gut-wrenching piece of gamesmanship, but perhaps it is the thing about playing for Barça. Perhaps you begin to believe that you are indeed entitled to operate according to your own quite separate rules.
No, this isn't a defence of Drogba's gaudier excesses. He had his peeking moment, if you remember, after flopping down on the Stamford Bridge pitch as though he had been hit by a bullet from an elephant gun. That was midway through an otherwise heroic contribution to the overturning of Napoli's lead and, while it didn't match the success of Busquets' grotesque deceit, it was still another statement about the ethical desert today's football has become.
Most oppressive on the spirit this week, surely, is the sheer scale of football hypocrisy. Given his own shaky record on discipline, it was certainly remarkable that Wayne Rooney produced the nerve to tweet on the subject of Drogba's behaviour.
Would he not have been better off reviewing his own indiscretions, including the reason why he will be missing from England's opening European Championship games, and having done so and still found enough elbow room – if he will forgive the expression –to pass judgement on someone else, maybe have a word in the ear of his Manchester United team-mate Ashley Young?
Certainly the Barça dressing room is an unlikely place to find the most strenuous complaints about the simulation of pain and injury. In this area, Dani Alves has provided his own guide on how to make a banquet out of the remnants of a cheese biscuit.
Of course, much of this week's indignation flowed from Barcelona's deep-seated frustration. Their failure to perform a few killing strokes has built considerable pressure around the second leg – and before that there is another round of the Clasico wars.
Chelsea will obviously attempt to drive the bus they parked on the Fulham Road on Wednesday all the way to the Nou Camp. Jose Mourinho performed a similar feat with Inter, and if the odds still suggest that Barça are likely to find a solution, this time it is far from guaranteed. Certainly Roberto Di Matteo has reason to believe that one successful spoiling operation might just be repeated at a stadium where the highest expectations can turn in on themselves quickly enough.
Ideally, an integral part of the Chelsea effort would not involve the least appealing part of Drogba's nature, the whining and the histrionics which so regularly disfigure his otherwise brilliant impact, one which once persuaded Carlo Ancelotti to describe him as "my superman".
This week the diving and the mock distress were plainly strategic and if this left a bad taste it was hardly a novel experience for the football palate. Players play tricks, all the time, and few less than those in the fabled colours of Barcelona. That they also produce extraordinary beauty around the genius of Lionel Messi is no doubt one of the great glories of football. But then if this has invited unprecedented levels of acclaim, it hasn't come with a waiver on some basic moral responsibility.
This reality does not appear to be at the forefront of the thinking of such as Busquets and Alves and Puyol and is hardly likely to descend in the days before the game with Real and the second leg with Chelsea. This leaves us with Didier Drogba in the eye of the diving storm and when you review the worst of his performance it is a fact which is not likely to lose much of its weight before Tuesday's kick-off.
However, it could just be that the level of the offence he has caused might have performed one useful service. It might just concentrate for a little while the mind of a game which has perhaps never been so reluctant to take a look at itself.
That certainly was the message delivered unwittingly not so much by Didier Drogba this week as Sergio Busquets. Football needs to look at the two pictures, the one of the Barça star pouring scorn on the man from the Ivory Coast – and the one of his furtive check on the results of his own despicable handiwork. You see most of the problem in just two glances, everything in fact but a hint of conscience.
Chambers has served his time – now let him run
Excuse me for a pass on all the lamentations over the possibility that Dwain Chambers will now run in the London Olympics.
According to the British Olympic Association, the now expected overturning of their right to impose life-time bans is a desperate blow in a lonely, principled stand against drug cheats. If only life, and the morass of the drug problem into which Chambers allowed himself to fall as a 21-year-old, was quite so simple – and could be so arbitrarily parcelled up in a set of good intentions.
Chambers has served his statutory two-year-ban – after providing an unvarnished account of the manner in which he was persuaded that he had no chance of significant success in his sport without the help of performance- enhancement drugs. He has sought atonement, sworn that whatever else he achieves in his career it will be by strenuous observance of the rules.
Until the universal punishment is changed, that should be good enough in track and field – as it is in most corners of life.
Some say this is a betrayal of the vast majority of athletes who go about their business cleanly but, of course, in athletics, measuring guilt and innocence has never been a precise art.
One of our erstwhile national heroes, Linford Christie, led the criticism of Ben Johnson after his disgrace in Seoul – then finished his career under a drug ban of his own. Earlier, of course, he had been given the benefit of the doubt after his own positive test in the wake of the Johnson affair.
Old history, you might say, but some things never change. One of them is the eternal battle against cheating in sport. A few days before Johnson was stripped of his gold medal, the then head of the BOA, Arthur Gold, offered his opinion that at least half the athletes at Seoul had either flirted with, or were seriously engaged in, drug-taking. Things have improved sharply, we are told with each new Olympiad – and never more strongly than in Sydney 12 years ago, shortly before the fall of wonder woman Marion Jones.
One certainty is that the means to cheat, and the incentive to find the perfect masking agent, have not gone away – nor have the financial rewards lessened.
This needs to be remembered when Chambers is cast so firmly as an isolated pariah of the past. What he is, in fact, is someone who was caught – and was then required to pay the price. Anyone who believes a substantial number of athletic lives no longer hover around such a fine and perilous line have surely taken leave of the real world. Take away the chance of redemption and, of course, it becomes that much bleaker.Reuse content