Drogba in the centre

The hero from IVORY COAST will look to put the diving and handball allegations behind him and come up with a powerful performance in the World Cup, writes ANDY HAMPSON.

Controversial Chelsea striker Didier Drogba is one of the most talented players to emerge from the Ivory Coast although he has struggled to live up to his prolific goal-scoring reputation since joining the west London club in a big-money move in 2004. His time in London has been noted as much for misses, poor performances and — most recently — accusations of diving as for his goals.

Drogba was born in Ivory Coast's largest city, Abidjan, where his parents worked. His interest in football came from his uncle, Michel Goba, who oversaw much of his upbringing. Goba, a professional player in France, convinced Drogba's parents that their child should come to live with him from the age of five, as it would offer him a better chance in life.

Drogba did return home when he was eight but as the economic situation in Ivory Coast worsened, his parents decided it would be better for him to stay in France permanently. He therefore grew up watching and learning from his football-playing uncle. Goba played for a number of clubs and so moved around the country a lot. It was during a spell with Dunkerque that Drogba first began to play for a club. They then moved to Vannes in Brittany before Drogba's parents themselves moved to France to join him in his early teens. They eventually ended up living near Paris, where Drogba first began to catch the eye, playing for the Levallois club. From there he was taken on as a youth player by Le Mans and was signed by Guingamp when he was 23. He spent just one season there, impressing enough for Marseille to shell out GBP3.3 million for him in 2003.

Drogba was an instant success at the Stade Velodrome and Europe's top clubs were soon watching him. He fired 27 goals in 41 games for the club before cash-laden Chelsea came in with a GBP24 million bid for the player.

Drogba signed for Chelsea in 2004 and helped the club to the Barclays English Premier League title in his first season. With the Blues again topping the table another championship success appears a certainty this term.

Drogba has become a hero in Ivory Coast after helping the country secure a place in the World Cup finals for the first time this year. His recent African Nations Cup campaign ended in agony, however, as he missed the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out against Egypt in the final. He is hungry to make amends in Germany and keep his countrymen happy.

Drogba has seemingly developed a penchant for causing controversy this season, largely due to his tendency to go to ground easily. He has long opened himself up to accusations of diving but with incidents becoming more frequent, criticism of him has intensified. He sparked a furore when he admitted in a television interview that he sometimes dived, but he later backtracked and Chelsea claimed that was not what he meant, citing his difficulties with the language. Nevertheless, with claims that his own fans were booing him for diving, the issue has not been quickly swept away.

On top of this, Drogba created further headlines in March after a couple of high-profile handball incidents. He had a goal disallowed in a defeat at Fulham after knocking the ball into his path with his hand. The decision was correct but controversy raged as Chelsea claimed neither referee nor linesman could have seen the incident from their position. Drogba got away with one the following week, however, as he touched the ball with his hand before smashing in his second goal of the afternoon against Manchester City.

Drogba is currently involved with Alicia Duvall, the page-three model famous for her surgically-enhanced breasts and a long list of celebrity sexual partners. She has given a number of `kiss-and-tell' stories about her encounters to the press. Another footballer, Dwight Yorke, singers Mick Hucknall and Dane Bowers and actor Dean Gaffney have all succumbed to her charms.

Drogba has been spotted behind the wheel of a Mercedes SL65, a sleek, high-performance two-seater convertible costing around GBP145,000. The powerful roadster does 0-100 kmph in just 4.2 seconds.

* * * FACTFILE

Position: Striker Club: Chelsea DOB: March 11, 1978 Ivory Coast Caps: 27 Ivory Coast Goals: 21 Ivory Coast debut: 2002

Moment to remember:

Drogba was outstanding in his single season with Marseille, his goals in the club's run to the UEFA Cup final making him one of Europe's hottest properties. He came to English attention with a goal in each leg of a victory over Liverpool before all-but cementing Chelsea's interest with both goals in a decisive 2-0 second leg win over Newcastle in the semifinals.

Moment to forget:

Drogba's worst night in a Chelsea shirt came when he was sent off in their infamous Champions League second-round defeat in Barcelona last season. After missing a golden scoring opportunity, he was dismissed for a seemingly innocuous challenge early in the second half. Chelsea went on to lose 2-1 and the game was later overshadowed by controversy after Blues boss Jose Mourinho claimed opposite number Frank Rijkaard went into referee Anders Frisk's room at half-time.

* * * WHAT THEY SAID

"I have got this obsessive compulsive disorder where I have to have everything in a straight line or everything has to be in pairs. Everything has to be perfect."

— David Beckham, who added that his former teammates at Manchester United used to sneak into his room and move things around just to upset him.

"My nine-year old son feels more Scottish than anything else at the moment so we have to go back to Sweden."

— Former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson on why he is leaving Champions League semifinalists Barcelona to return to his homeland with Helsingborg.

"We showed no moral courage whatsoever. I do not include the goalkeeper in this, but the rest of them I have told to go home, have a look at their kids and ask them how daddy did today. None of them stepped up to the plate. None of them showed any leadership. None of them earned their wages."

— Manchester City manager Stuart Pearce blasts his players after the 1-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough.

"If your form is good in April you have a good chance. If you're stuttering then you can throw it away"

— Sir Alex Ferguson turns up the heat on Chelsea. Let the mind games begin!

"Every single word I say in this country... the next day it is a nightmare."

— Jose Mourinho explains his spate of non-appearances at press conferences.

"Research has shown that to have a chance of being a footballer, a violinist or whatever at the top level, you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice. Minimum."

— Bolton manager Sam Allardyce takes his love of stats a little too far.

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