James Lawton: Rooney is a worthy winner but Drogba's capacity to devastate should not be ignored
It is more than a push to proclaim Drogba a reformed character. His regression against Internazionale was sufficient deterrent to make such a claim
Tuesday 27 April 2010
The trouble with most awards is that, at best, they are arbitrary. At worst, those giving them qualify for a visit from men in white coats or formed into a firing squad. Fortunately, none of these consequences should be even vaguely contemplated in the elevation of Wayne Rooney, the PFA Player of the Year.
This doesn't mean it is out of place to give a passing thought for a man who, at one point, seemed to have turned all of English football into a background setting for his ferociously marshalled talent.
He may not be everyone's idea of a perfectly wrapped package of football priorities; indeed, you might believe that he too sometimes qualifies for a visit from the white coats. Yet who can run their eye back over the season's action and not from time to time be engulfed by the massive presence of Didier Drogba?
First, though, there is the young English Caesar who has made it through his share of disappointments and tantrums. It is surely both inevitable and just that Rooney will take possession of his second player of the year trophy as the English Football Writers' Player of the Year in a few weeks and, with the vote of the football writers going along with the approval of his professional peers, have his name added to an impressive list of double winners.
He will join Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo as undisputedly the most notably consistent individual forces in a 21st-century English season, a peak of sustained virtuosity which, remarkably, Henry and Ronaldo both achieved twice.
All five winners of both awards in the same season came in on the bridle after passing what is surely the most relevant test of any professional's contribution. The demand is that either by the sheer force of his talent or competitive passion, and ideally a combination of both, he has shaped the season-long performance of his team. This particular accolade had its scope notably widened this last season by Rooney's superb efforts on behalf of both Manchester United and England.
Yet, not for the first time, there is that nag. For some of us it was rather more of a throbbing pain when the charming, but ultimately peripheral, David Ginola won a popularity contest in both press boxes and dressing rooms in 1999. That seemed, relatively speaking, like an award for mere glamour as football lurched into the celebrity age of David Beckham.
It was a verdict that surely diminished in harshness when you compared the elegant Frenchman's most memorable contribution to that season, a spectacular goal against Barnsley in an FA Cup quarter-final, with the one made by Roy Keane a few weeks later when he almost single-handedly defeated Juventus in a Champions League semi-final in Turin.
The worry this spring is that Rooney's superb contribution to United's season is in danger of being overshadowed in the last strides – and that the man most likely to do it on all available evidence is Drogba. Had the man from Ivory Coast not suffered injury at a crucial stage of Chelsea's title challenge, and made a hugely ignominious exit from the Champions League after committing an egregiously petulant foul towards the end of the defeat by Internazionale, he would surely have jostled Rooney to the finishing line in a West End banqueting suite on Sunday night.
Even now a measure of exquisite vindication is on offer at Anfield this week when Drogba's ability to reconfirm his status as arguably the world's most terrifying frontman could define the season more profoundly than any other single performance – and this is despite Rooney's gallant promise that he will play in United's last game. Certainly, Drogba's capacity to devastate a defence is the single most potent reason to believe that Chelsea will finally justify the belief that for a substantial amount of this season they have displayed most compellingly the pedigree of champions.
It is not something you would want to argue out with Sir Alex Ferguson in the confines of a telephone box, but, still, it is extremely hard to shake away the picture of Drogba scything through defences as he did so devastatingly for so much of the season.
Though goalless, he provided some vivid reminders in Sunday's annihilation of Stoke City, a performance which signalled a suspicion that, under the patient coaching of Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea will have the confidence and the momentum to survive the intensity of Anfield at the weekend sufficiently to restate something that seemed so evident a few months ago. It is that, in all-round strength, and in the force of Drogba, they have the truest potential to be champions.
It is more than a push to proclaim Drogba a reformed character. His regression against Inter was sufficient deterrent to make such a claim.
This, though, shouldn't prevent us handing a little credit where it is due, in this case to a man who still has a tumultuous, and at times discouraging, season well within his huge grasp.
Davis is not flash but he has always been able to dazzle
When Alex "Hurricane" Higgins was turning the fast-emerging world of snooker into a compelling circus, when he was tottering off to practice after downing enough to bring a rhino to its knees, we did not have to wait long for the sobering counter-point.
It was, of course, young Steve Davis, a phenomenal potter who made no attempt to build an image. Or at least we didn't think so, not at the time.
In fact, Davis was proclaiming the virtue that is embraced by so many great sportsmen around about the time they step out of the cradle. He was saying that, in the end, all the hype, all the celebrity, comes down to a simple question: can you really play, have you really made yourself the best competitor around?
We were reminded of quite how brilliantly Davis did this when, at the age of 52, he beat the world's No 1, John Higgins, at the weekend. Boring? It depends on your attention span.
Twenty20 has so quickly gone from boom to gloom
Not so long ago Twenty20 was the new light of cricket. But it doesn't – cheer-leading dancers apart – look quite so sexy now, does it?
Not with the Indian Premier League tearing itself apart, and an England team flying off to still another "world tournament" in the face of Himalayan indifference.
Nor does it help that a knowledgeable critic like Bob Willis announces that much of the IPL's bowling is garbage. This, after all, was supposed to be cricket's new frontier, not its seedy backyard.
Perhaps someone should suggest that the party is just about over and that cricket should remember where it mislaid its most enduring appeal.
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