x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Drogba taints the title party

Chelsea's Ivorian is a wonderful goal scorer, but his on-pitch tantrum showed that he is not a team player.

Didier Drogba, centre, is restrained by Chelsea teammates Florent Malouda, left, and Salomon Kalou after Frank Lampard refused to let the Ivorian take the side's first spot-kick against Wigan.
Didier Drogba, centre, is restrained by Chelsea teammates Florent Malouda, left, and Salomon Kalou after Frank Lampard refused to let the Ivorian take the side's first spot-kick against Wigan.

How typical it was of Didier Drogba to put a dampener on Chelsea's English Premier League title celebrations last night with a public sulk at the clinching moment of what has been a fascinating battle for domestic supremacy over Manchester United and Arsenal. The moody Ivory Coast striker unashamedly put personal glory ahead of that of his team when the opportunity to put his name on the Golden Boot presented itself 30 minutes into the decisive Stamford Bridge engagement with Wigan Athletic.

Going into the last game of the season level with Wayne Rooney, United's England striker, as joint top-scorer on 26 goals, Drogba begged to be given the chance to convert the penalty which offered Chelsea breathing space in their quest to maintain their slender advantage over Sir Alex Ferguson's defending champions. Frank Lampard, a wonderfully composed character who could never be accused of selfishness during his Chelsea career, was ludicrously forced to pull rank over his pouting colleague.

Having to repeatedly point out the error of Drogba's ways was the last thing Lampard needed as he contemplated the task of improving his team's slender one-goal advantage into a relatively safe two-goal cushion. A miss from the spot would have been understandable given the unforgivable distraction created by Drogba's spoilt brat impersonation. Lampard is bigger than that, though, and the man who had safely put away nine of his 10 penalties this season, dispatched another past the gallant dive of Wigan's stand-in goalkeeper Mike Pollitt.

Even then Lampard, in the interest of maintaining team spirit, had to spend several more seconds trying to reason with the unreasonable Drogba that the correct decision had been made and with it a third championship under the philanthropic backing of Roman Abramovic had been secured. It mattered not that Drogba, who ended up claiming the match ball in recognition of accepting late easy pickings against opponents who collapsed dismally in the second half, sensed that what ultimately became a resounding 8-0 victory had been assured by the decision of Martin Atkinson, the referee, to dismiss Gary Caldwell, the Wigan defender, in awarding that crucial penalty. There can be no room for sentiment when trophies are about to be won.

Chelsea fans, who will now be relishing the double of League and FA Cup, are still suffering in the memory of what happened the last time an occasional penalty taker stepped onto the spot with major silverware in the balance. John Terry, their inspirational captain, was left in tears as a make-or-break chance to win the 2008 Champions League final was denied him by a disastrous loss of footing on the run-up.

Drogba, who has infuriated crowds all over England with his tendency to give an impression that he is in need of intensive care every time he is upended in a tackle, ultimately had the smile restored to his face by Chelsea's total dominance of an erratic Wigan team who earlier in the campaign conceded nine goals at Tottenham. Having moved one ahead of Rooney in the Golden Boot stakes by heading home the fifth of Chelsea's eight goals against hapless opponents, he was granted the chance to score the sixth by a statesman-like Lampard when a second penalty came Chelsea's way.

Remarkably, the prolific Ivorian, to the delight of his watching international manager Sven Goran Eriksson, completed the unlikeliest of hat-tricks with 10 minutes remaining, leaving him to ponder how foolish his earlier actions had been on what was otherwise a day of unbridled celebration at the Bridge. By then Rooney's challenge to supplement his Footballer of the Year award with the Golden Boot had been brought to a premature end by a groin injury at Old Trafford the latest in a series of fitness worries for a player who is pivotal to England's World Cup hopes in South Africa next month.

Rooney failed to scored any of United's four goals in their effortless conquest of Stoke City a victory which left Ferguson and his men lamenting that awful start to April which featured a home defeat to Chelsea, Champions League elimination by Bayern Munich and the surrendering of two costly points at Blackburn Rovers. wjohnson@thenational.ae