| 13.1°C Dublin

Di Matteo stands up for 'Cyclone Drogba'

Such is the intensity of the debate over the theatrics of Ashley Young and Didier Drogba that some bright TV spark will surely consider filming a footballing 'Antics Roadshow,' assuming they can get the idea off the ground.

Hours after Alex Ferguson revealed he has "had a word" with Young, Roberto di Matteo was forced to defend Drogba after some clever statistician calculated that the Ivorian was guilty of six minutes' time-wasting against Barcelona last Wednesday, so disrupting their flow.

"Listen, you know how many times we were behind and other teams wasted time against us?'' countered Chelsea's interim first-team coach.

"Many times. Every team does it. Let me tell you, Barcelona do it as well.

"Drogba was very helpful to the team. He gave us an outlet and scored a vital goal. I was very pleased with him. He was marked most of the time by two men and got a physical battering."


Di Matteo said he would not be following Ferguson's example with Young and having a similar chat with Drogba (right). "No, because I don't see any reason for a conversation like that. Our players are fair players.''

Speaking generally about diving, the Italian acknowledged that some action was required.

"It's part of our game that we should try to eradicate. It's unfair. The majority of players don't dive. There has been a few issues lately, but there have also been in previous seasons.''

Talking after training at Cobham yesterday, Di Matteo waved away questions about Drogba's temperament, including mention of the striker being dismissed against Barcelona twice before and being potentially vulnerable in the febrile Nou Camp next Tuesday.

"Every player from our team and their team is at risk of being sent off,'' said Di Matteo. "It will be a high-intensity game.''

Drogba should have shrugged off a slight knee injury in time, although he misses today's Premier League visit to the Emirates.

That bulletin will come as a relief to Arsenal's defenders, so frequently bullied by Drogba in the past. Such was the decisive nature of the 34- year-old's display against Barcelona that Di Matteo believes Drogba can compete for another two seasons at the top.

The Ivorian is expected to join Nicolas Anelka at Shanghai Shenhua, a move that will swell his coffers, but not his major medal collection.

"I'm sure he will continue to play football whether with Chelsea or someone else, even for another couple of years,'' said Di Matteo. "He's fit. If you've not suffered any big injuries and you train well and live well, we have seen players go on to their late 30s.

"Good examples are Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Paolo Maldini and Gianfranco Zola had long careers. Drogba's part of the history of this club and always will be. The final decision is for the club to take."

Ever since Drogba's match-winning, friend-losing performance in midweek, the European football style council has pontificated long and loud on Chelsea's tactics.

While praising Di Matteo for galvanising Chelsea, Italian coaching legend Arrigo Sacchi yesterday questioned the ultra-defensive approach in an "undeserved" victory through "Cyclone Drogba" for "a club that has invested €2.5bn." Writing in a 'Gazzetta dello Sport' column entitled 'Di Matteo won but football lost', Sacchi added: "The English fans who cheered at the end should not forget their criticism of Italian football when they won in this way."

On having these comments relayed to him, a thin smile appeared on the lips of Di Matteo, who represented Italy under Sacchi.

"I know Arrigo very well. I know his philosophy. He's probably closer to Barcelona's style, but we have to look at what is the best way for us to win and go through. I watched a lot of games Barcelona played against other big clubs like AC Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United.


"Many players, teams and managers have tried with different tactics to play Barcelona, but they will always create chances because of the sheer quality of their players, top players, the best in the world.

"Our players did a marvellous job to limit the threat of Barcelona. It is about winning."

But was Roman Abramovich, whose dream is of adventurous football, happy to win that way?

"Everybody connected to the club is happy we won,'' said Di Matteo. "That's what matters most.''

And of the critics? "I respect everybody's opinion -- and everybody has an opinion about ourselves.''

A consensus of opinion indicates growing approval of Di Matteo, the caretaker who could become a contender for the full-time role.

Di Matteo has stirred the team, treating the players like adults since stepping up when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked on March 4.

"We were in a precarious situation, but I had belief in the players. I always had belief in myself. I feel a great responsibility to this club, supporters and players. The one thing I can guarantee I will take at the end of the season is a nice holiday!'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent