IT'S NOT JUST DIDIER

The Chelsea striker found support from likely and unlikely sources — Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger — in the recent diving controversy with the Arsenal manager claiming that the man from Ivory Coast is not the only player in the Premiership who indulges in theatricals to con referees, writes BRIAN LEE.

His own supporters are booing him, opposition managers are jumping to his defence and his uncle is suggesting he is about to walk away — but the man at the centre of the Barclays English Premier League's latest controversy, Didier Drogba, doesn't know what all the fuss is about.

Drogba's two goals against Manchester City kept Chelsea on course to wrap up a second successive Premier League title but it was his post-match comments that dominated the back pages. The former Marseille star admitted he had conned referees by diving but later retracted his admission, claiming he was confused in the emotion of winning the game.

The Ivory Coast striker had already brought the ball under control with his hand for the second goal by the time he appeared to go down like a dying swan when touched by a City player. His actions were met by disapproval from the Stamford Bridge faithful but Drogba said: "I can understand if they are unhappy when I don't play well. Wherever I play I always give everything for my team, and I always have a lot of respect for my shirt and my club." Of the handball, he added: "I handled it but this is part of the game. I try to score and if the referee sees the handball there is a restart. He didn't see it, so for me it is (part of) the game." Blues manager Jose Mourinho, who has also had several other players in his squad — Shaun Wright-Phillips, Asier del Horno and Arjen Robben — accused of theatrics in recent weeks, was quick to get behind Drogba. "Sometimes he is a player who does not get what he deserves," said Mourinho. "Drogba is a fighter. I am happy with him and we are happy to have a professional like him.

Players are not just about the skilful and beautiful ones who play for the stands. It is important to have players who fight for the team, work for the team, attack and defend. He is the kind of player I would say, `with you I could go to every war.' He is a very important player for us."

While plenty were lining up to take a shot at Drogba, despite being given a close look at how easily he might break, the striker found an unlikely ally in Arsene Wenger. The Gunners manager said: "Drogba is under the spotlight for obvious reasons, but overall I like his attitude. He makes sometimes more of it, like many strikers do." The influx of foreign players has often been blamed for players diving in the Premier League so maybe it isn't all that surprising that Wenger, a man recently criticised for fielding an entire team without a homegrown player, refused to come down too hard on Drogba.

Sir Alex Ferguson, however, was in no such mood. The Manchester United boss has called for referees to be given greater powers to drive the cheats out of the game. United, though, are not immune from the diving culture, which has seeped into the English top flight over the last few years, with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Cristiano Ronaldo both accused of going to ground too easily at times during their `Red Devils' careers.

But the issue has received greater prominence in recent times and in Wright-Phillips' case, his tumble in last week's FA Cup tie with Newcastle was enough to see Magpies defender Robbie Elliott sent off. And Ferguson feels it is time the divers were subjected to the same punishments as the opponents they are attempting to incriminate. "The problem has been there for quite a few years and it is obvious it has got worse," said the Scot.

"The difficult thing is how do you stop it. The players diving have an advantage over the ones making a tackle because a lad going to make an honest tackle can receive a red card yet referees can only give a yellow to the guy who cheats to win a penalty or get someone sent off, which is an amazing thing. You could give someone two yellows I suppose but that is not going to have any impact. It is a discrepancy which is always going to cause controversy."

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