Di Matteo leaps to the defence of Drogba


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The Independent Football

Roberto Di Matteo yesterday defended Didier Drogba against charges of diving. The Ivorian scored the only goal of Chelsea's 1-0 win over Barcelona on Wednesday but did not impress everyone with his reactions to fouls.

Di Matteo said Drogba was being genuine. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion," said the Chelsea caretaker manager. "He was marked most of the time by two men and got a physical battering. We have to be objective about our opinions as well."

Simulation is a live issue: yesterday Sir Alex Ferguson said he had "had a word" with Ashley Young after the winger won penalties for Manchester United in consecutive home matches. Asked if he would have a similar talk with his players, Di Matteo said he would not.

"I don't see any reason for a conversation like that," Di Matteo said. "Our players are fair players. Everybody has their own style but we are a fair team."

Barcelona's Carles Puyol was visibly infuriated by the time Drogba spent on the turf on Wednesday, but Di Matteo fiercely denied that it was part of a concerted attempt to run down the clock as Chelsea tried to hold on to their lead.

"Do you know how many times other teams waste time?" Di Matteo said. "Many times. Every team does it. Let me tell you, Barcelona do it as well."

Wednesday night, like last Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, provided an imposing reminder of just how effective Drogba can be. He scored the brilliant opener in Chelsea's 5-1 defeat of Tottenham at Wembley and was a ferocious presence against Barcelona, scoring the only goal in first-half added time.

For all the speculation over Drogba's future, Di Matteo said the 34-year-old was good enough to play for Chelsea for another two years.

"He's fit, so I'm sure he will continue to play football," Di Matteo said. "He's not going to retire, whether here or elsewhere I don't know. Yes, whether at Chelsea or someone else, even for another couple of years. If there are no injuries and you train well and live well, I have seen players go on to late 30s."

Criticism of Chelsea's famous win over Barcelona was not limited to accusations of gamesmanship. Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan coach, wrote in the Gazzetta dello Sport that Chelsea's defensive tactics were inappropriate, given their resources. The article's headline was: "Di Matteo won, football did not."

But Di Matteo was understandably proud with the result and said he was only responsible for the club's progress, rather than aesthetic concerns. "I know Arrigo very well and his philosophy," he said. "He's probably closer to Barcelona style but we have to look at ourselves and what is the best way to win and go for it. It is about winning. Every game throws different challenges and we have to be ready for those. I think personally I'm happy we won. Everybody connected to the club is happy we won. That's what matters most."

Drogba will be missing this afternoon at Arsenal, as Chelsea return their attention to the battle to finish fourth. Di Matteo promised "a few changes", in reaction to a busy schedule.

"Recovery is probably the most important aspect right now," he said. "Results help you to keep going and believe you can achieve the targets you have set yourself."