Friday, March 31, 2006

The 'Cheating' Debate - Part 1

The above issue is a hugely emotive and provocative one. Everyone has a viewpoint, everyone has something to say and what is clear is that there seems to be some consensus on some matters, and disagreements on others. Here I’m going to try and sort out the wheat from the chaffe, and go over all the varying issues this topic has raised. This is an attempt to present a balanced view of all the arguments rather than promote my own, however obviously at some point my views on this subject will become clear.

I’ll cover to the diving and our reaction in more detail in part 2. For now though I think we should have a look at Didier Drogba, the seemingly endless media vendetta against him and separate that out from the truth.

Didier Drogba seems to have been a love-hate figure at Chelsea almost since he signed. He was our club record signing and we were longing for him to become the world-class 20 goal a season striker our team now required. Right from the start though, from talking and reading fans’ opinions of him I can gather that most Chelsea opinion would be that he is a frustrating player. A player who without question has great ability. However, one who has almost the equal capacity to annoy.

He has a great physical presence and is big, strong and powerful. Art his best he can ride roughshod through any defence and tear them apart, as he did most effectively at Anfield this season is what I still personally think was his best performance for us. He can also finish when he is of the mind to. The first goal against Arsenal in the Community Shield, the one away to West Ham and the first against Man City on Saturday were all excellent finishes, clearly the mark of a man with skill and power.

If he played like that consistently then he’d be truly world class. However he does have games where he never sees much of the ball, loses out in headers and misses absolute sitters. Against Middlesbrough at home this season and home to West Brom last season (when he should’ve had a hat-trick) he has missed chances on the goal line when only a touch would’ve taken the ball into the net. In other games he has missed chances that a striker of his calibre would normally score.

This however is partially negated by the fact that as we can see he works very hard for the team. He holds the ball up well and tracks back and defends when required. He plays for the team and fights for the team.

Another major issue surrounding Didier at the moment is that of him being a cheat

The aspect of his game that has been the most controversial and has been highlighted by the media a lot (to say the least) recently is his apparent urge to go down injured after the slightest touch by a defender. According to the media of course he has only really started doing this recently. I think it’s possible to agree that the way he went down against West Brom was a bit theatrical, but in his defence if you look at the replay I would say he was slightly clipped by the WBA player on his way through. Drogba just seemed to make the most of it. The other major incident that has been highlighted as a dive came last Saturday when he went over after apparently being accidentally poked in the eye by Richard Dunne. Now there is no doubt after seeing the replay. He did get poked in the eye and was clearly in pain. Jose Mourinho said afterwards that his right eye was bloodshot afterwards and his eye did look swollen on the BBC interview later on.

In the same game of course there was the goal which came from the handball, which from the replay was not a deliberate one. When Drogba admitted the ball had hit his hand people jumped on this. He was confessing he was a cheat and that he deliberately controlled the ball to gain advantage. Of course it hadn’t helped that a week before he’d has a goal disallowed against Fulham for handball, which from the replays actually looked a little more deliberate.

Now according to the media it seems at the moment Didier Drogba is the only player who dives or cheats, and he’s ruining the game. We need to get some perspective here. The media is clearly doing what they always do, and blowing one incident, involving the big team of the moment, and blowing it out of all proportion. I won’t go into how the media talk garbage, I’ve already written about that. But they want to bring Chelsea down in any way they can. It happens to any team at the top. Remember how Roy Keane was constantly criticised after each sending off for bringing shame to football, or how everyone always jumped on Arsenal’s poor disciplinary record and the diving of Robert Pires? It happens. Earlier in the season they picked on Essien and now it seems Drogba is in for it. The thing is this time some of our supporters seem to have fallen for it.

There are plenty of other players who do what Drogba did – Van Nistelrooy, Pires, Ronaldo and Diouf – all have gone down very easily under challenges and won free kicks for their team. Plenty of strikers will claim goals from handballs. It happens, bad decisions are made. There are few if any strikers who will go up to the referee and admit that it was a handball, and there are plenty of legitimate goals ruled out to balance this out. Drogba is not the only guilty party here, so let’s not rile him unfairly. Let the criticism be balanced and justified, not driven by the media out for blood and who have found an easy and willing victim in Drogba.

Next time I’ll discuss a bit more about the issues of diving in our modern game, about what sort of players are guilty of it and maybe why they do it. Then I try and elaborate on what I think our reaction to it should be. I’ll also be touching on the whole subject of whether it’s right or not to boo our own players. Hopefully then we can have an all round view of this whole issue that seems to be dominating the headlines at the moment.