Hand of Drogba

DIDIER DROGBA celebrates his goal against Manchester City even as rival defenders appeal to the referee to rule it a hand ball.-AP

Didier Drogba, strong on the ground, powerful in the air, more adroit than he may look, but still a devoted diver; and a regular user of a hand, where a foot will not suffice. As we saw all too plainly in two recent Chelsea games.

Recently in the Premiership, we have had a spate of contradictory decisions, some manifestly wrong, one or two right but for what you might call the wrong reasons. Featuring in all too many of them is the big Ivory Coast striker, Didier Drogba of Chelsea, strong on the ground, powerful in the air, more adroit than he may look, but still a devoted diver; and a regular user of a hand, where a foot will not suffice. As we saw all too plainly and well in two recent Chelsea games.

I was at Craven Cottage where a Fulham team, which had been struggling in the League and leaking a plethora of goals, took on neighbouring Chelsea who already had the title in their pockets. The game had hardly begun when Moritz Voltz, Fulham's German right back, who seemed to have recovered his confidence after a nightmarish experience on the same ground against Arsenal and Thierry Henry, came racing into the Chelsea penalty area where he was promptly scythed down by the Chelsea and England centre back, John Terry. It looked a pretty clear penalty, but a complaisant referee let play go on.

Unperturbed Fulham, playing above themselves in the way these local derbies so often and strangely go, continued to attack; and took the lead. It was in the second half that Drogba, racing through the middle, helped by a hand on the ball, outstripped the Fulham defence, outflanked goalkeeper Crossley, and put the ball in the net for what the referee seemed to deem the equaliser. The Fulham players would have none of it. They surrounded the referee and protested ferociously. Till he eventually walked over to his linesman, conferred with him and disallowed the goal.

Cue the ire of Chelsea. After the game, their voluble manager, Jose Mourinho, insisted that neither referee nor linesman could possibly have seen what happened though he somewhat undermined his case by admitting that indeed Drogba had handled. In fact, I believe he was right to insist that neither official was in a position to see what happened, and that therefore the implication was that what you might call player power on the part of the Fulham team had been the decisive factor.

Fast forward to Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea at home to Manchester City in the League. Drogba has already scored an excellent goal, dynamically changing direction then pivoting to drive home. But his second goal was all too palpably — again — the fruit of a helping hand. This time, the opposing defenders would protest in vain. The goal was allowed by an inflexible referee, Rob Styles, and there was worse to come. At the end of the game City skipper Sylvain Distin, who happened to have the match ball under his arm, confronted Styles, which as captain he was entitled to do, and renewed his protest, City having lost 2-0. All Styles would do was insist that Distin give him the ball, which would presumably have happened as soon as the City skipper had finished making his complaint. Until Styles suddenly and inexplicably produced a second yellow card, which automatically led to a red and sent Distin off! It was the second successive game at Stamford Bridge that had aroused much controversy. Meanwhile, the usually placid and timorous BBC television interviewers at last produced an inquisitor with the guts to put Drogba under substantial pressure. Youg Ivan Gaskell, by sharp contrast with his elders but hardly betters, would not let Drogba off the hook over his penchant for diving. Drogba's English is not of the best, and you might say that off pitch as well as on, he ducked and dived. Of the admitted handball, he insisted, "It's part of the game." He also conceded, "Sometimes I dive and sometimes I stay up. I don't care about this."

Previously, I was at Chelsea to watch their dull FA Cup tie against a mediocre Newcastle side. Robbie Elliott, a United defender, was to his bitter outrage sent off in the second half for a second yellow card, found guilty of bringing down the flying Chelsea winger, Shaun Wright-Phillips, though it seemed quite probable that the winger had not even been touched. The BBC television made great play out of this and brought on the Newcastle and England veteran centre forward Alan Shearer and the acting manager, Glenn Roeder, to deplore Wright-Phillips' behaviour and to sympathise with Elliott, who, in my view, deserved no sympathy at all. For shortly before his expulsion, he had quite evidently and spitefully kicked Joe Cole, the Chelsea attacker, in the back as Cole lay on the ground. There could hardly have been a clearer case for expulsion had only the referee or his linesman seen what happened.

But it seems they didn't and Elliott stayed on the field, only for rough justice to catch up with him. With all their television footage available, you might have thought that the BBC interviews would have pointed this out. But no, they did not even mention it. Shearer and Roeder were allowed to strike their holier-than-thou attitudes. And while admitting that Shearer, in his long and prolific career, has never been a diver, how often have his markers suffered from his raised arms and elbows? And what of the time, just before the 1998 World Cup, when he spun right the way round to kick Neil Lennon of Leicester in the face; only for the spavined FA, wanting him for the World Cup, to decree he had been freeing himself?