Sam Wallace: Drogba should be a hero – but the demons won't go away

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A fearsome striker who found his feet the hard way, Didier Drogba will be remembered for all the wrong reasons

Didier Drogba's story is the template for the African footballer fairy tale: the kid who left the Ivory Coast to live with an uncle in France; who later slept on a rug with five other siblings and his parents in a one-room apartment in the Paris suburbs. He should represent just about everything that makes football great, its rewards for talent and its rigorous meritocracy.

So why is it that when the chips are down and the pressure is on, Drogba reacts with such appalling misjudgement?

The striker disgraced himself in the aftermath of the draw with Barcelona on Wednesday night. Those at Chelsea who would seek to move the club away from the old accusations that they bully and intimidate when they do not get their way will have winced at Drogba's pursuit of Tom Henning Ovrebo, however poor the referee's performance. It was an embarrassment and for all the rage that Drogba sought to portray there was something weirdly staged about his behaviour.

Earlier, before he was substituted, Drogba had pulled up limping in front of the home bench, giving up on a chase for the ball and prompting Guus Hiddink to tell his assistants to prepare a substitution. By the time that Juliano Belletti was ready to come on, Drogba appeared to be surreptitiously trying to tell his manager that really he was OK to carry on but Hiddink was convinced and in the 72nd minute, Chelsea's leading striker was off the field.

Drogba is understood to be unhappy with his substitution. There is some irony in the possibility that his notorious willingness to go down hurt in dubious circumstances could have eventually led to him fooling his own manager into substituting him in one of the biggest games in his career. His finger-jabbing exercise with Ovrebo at the end of the game was unpleasant and unnecessary but what happened once the referee had gone down the tunnel was just plain odd.

So desperate was he to make his point, Drogba sought out the Sky Sports camera. For a man who could have had his pick of any of the scores of press or television crews who waited in vain for him after the match, this was an unusually pro-active media strategy from the famously publicity-shy player. It looked like a man a little too eager to show how much he cared, with Drogba perhaps mindful of the reaction to his red card in the final in Moscow last year.

It appeared this time that Drogba was desperate to show Chelsea fans he felt their pain, although losing the plot was a novel way to show it. His flick at Manchester United's Carlos Tevez in the Luzhniki stadium last year demonstrated carelessness on a night when keeping his cool was everything. To say he overcompensated by trying to show how unhappy he was this time is something of an understatement.

Reconciling these aspects of Drogba's personality has always been problematic; like trying to equate the man who goes down in agony from the most innocuous challenge with the forward who bulldozes through when he has the slightest sniff of goal. Drogba is, by all accounts, a decent bloke although he bears the bruises of a player who was only lauded relatively late in his career and seems never to have shaken off the injustice of having to wait so long.

He points out in his autobiography that while Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were making the grade in top-flight French football, he was still kicking his heels at non-league Levallois. He was relatively old, 21, when he got his first pro contract; 24 when he first played in Ligue 1. On Wednesday night Drogba had to endure his contemporary, Henry, reaching another European Cup final while he, at 31, faces up to the prospect that he might never get there again.

When, in the summer, Drogba was again minded to get out of Chelsea, and the club were prepared to let him go, there were no suitable takers for the striker whose contract expires next summer. He is not among the biggest earners such as John Terry and Frank Lampard. There have always been underlying tensions in his relationship with Chelsea, even when Jose Mourinho was manager.

The question of where Drogba's career goes from here is a tricky issue. In the past he has idealised Italy, Milan in particular, but there is no way that a 31-year-old striker will be paid Chelsea wages of around £90,000-a-week in Serie A; he would struggle to get them anywhere else in the Premier League. It is a dangerous dead end for a player of Drogba's undoubted ability and brittle temperament to find himself him.

There were times on Wednesday when Drogba was at his unplayable best, manoeuvring his fellow Ivorian Yaya Touré – no weakling himself – off the ball with devastating speed and strength. He got himself in a row with one of Josep Guardiola's underlings on the bench, but when the teams went in for half-time it was Drogba who offered the hand of friendship.

The problem with Drogba is that even now, 10 years on from that first major breakthrough with Guingamp in France, he still does not know how to behave appropriately when the game deals him a duff hand. He is a fabulous footballer, but unlike Henry, he is in danger of English football remembering him for the occasions when he lost control rather than the moments when he won FA Cup finals or league titles. The sad thing is, he just does not seem to recognise that.

I've had a Drogba moment too

We've all done it. Well, not all of us, but more than would admit to it. And, it has to be said, none of us can have done it while millions of viewers around the globe were watching. But as Frank Lampard defended Didier Drogba yesterday saying, as Hiddink did the night before, that emotions easily spill over, some of us may find ourselves asking: haven't I blown my top too?

Chances are, the object of the tirade was a man in a uniform. I remember going Tonto at a traffic warden, and he wasn't the guy who had given me a ticket. It was one of his mates. There's something about authority figures that brings out the worst in us. They make us feel small and powerless.

Whatever the case about the claims for penalties and the performance of referee Tom Henning Ovrebo, and while acknowledging that swearing into a TV camera and having to be muscled off a pitch is hardly honourary, Drogba's reaction was a human one. He didn't hit Ovrebo; he lost his rag, went over the top. Elton John does it all the time. At least it shows Drogba cares.

Mark Fleming

Man in black: Referee and the backlash

Tom Henning Ovrebo

The background:

Born: 26 June 1966, Oslo

Hobbies: Motorcycling, boating

Married, three children

Profession: Psychologist

First match: Ham-Kam Fotball v Sogndal IL, September 1992

Appointed Fifa referee: 1994

Norwegian Referee of the Year: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006

Officiated in 23 European Cup games (78 yellows, six red)

Refereed two group games at Euro 2008. His performance in Romania v Italy was criticised after he disallowed a Luca Toni header and awarded Romania a dubious penalty.

The press

Even Spanish media branded Ovrebo's performance a disaster:

Rafa Guerrero (former linesman, now media pundit) "[He] gave one of the worst refereeing displays I have seen in the Champions League. Uefa should never have given him such an important match. He looked physically unprepared – perhaps this game will spell his premature retirement. Only showing Michael Ballack a yellow for over-the-top protests was the sign of a guilty conscience."

Esten Saether (Norwegian daily Dagbladet) "[He] is exactly the type of ref this sport wants... [his] complete calm in the middle proved he is a top international football referee."

Peter Schmeichel (Former Manchester Utd/Denmark keeper) "[I] couldn't understand how such a weak referee gets to ref such an important game."

The fans

"Anyone who has been a Chelsea fan for more than five minutes was waiting for the equaliser. We didn't take chances and it ultimately cost us."

Greenlight - oleole.com

"The winner out of all this is football, now we get to see two fluent attacking sides in the final."

Toon Rocker - BBC 606

"Been watching Chelsea since 1976 and not entirely comfortable with what I witnessed at the final whistle."

ZolaGola - BBC 606

"I'm tired of Drogba's antics. Last year [in the final] were bad enough. If he's going to throw that fit he needs to score." Nathanoleole.com

Jay Legate and James Mariner

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions