Chelsea

Didier Drogba's Acting Skills Help Chelsea Beat Napoli at Their Own Game

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 14:  Didier Drogba (R) of Chelsea beats Salvatore Aronica of Napoli to score their first goal with a header during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg match between Chelsea FC and SSC Napoli at Stamford Bridge on March 14, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
H AndelAnalyst IIIMarch 15, 2012

In Chelsea's remarkable demolition of one of Italy's current best teams, Napoli, in a Champions League match, a competition where quality vies with quality—making Chelsea's 4-1 victory more striking—the moment of the match for me was when Didier Drogba went to ground clutching his face as though knocked out by one of Mike Tyson's sucker punches.

He had gone into a challenge behind one of Napoli's players—I can't recall which now—when the flailing hand of the latter caught Drogba in the chest. Down went the Ivory Coast international. 

Promptly, the referee's shrill whistle sounded.

The Napoli player threw up his hands in frustration and disgust. He and his team were chasing the game. It was the second chapter of extra time and Chelsea had the advantage: a goal by Branislav Ivanovic, scored in the 105th minute of the match.

"No, no," said one of the English commentators of the match, but he didn't protest too much. You see, the English were winning.

Normally, I'd be jumping excitedly myself, wagging a finger at Drogba and shouting words like "not fair," and if really incensed,  throwing in words such as "cheat" for good measure.

It's often simple for me: divers are nothing if not glorified cheats, who buy advantage for their teams and are later patted on the back by their teammates and manager, to the chagrin of the opposing team and its fans.

Normally the benefiting manager, perfectly groomed for the cameras and with a charming Cockney accent, would say something like, "no, it was a foul, clear, clear foul...no, it wasn't a drive, ___ is a good lad, he wouldn't dream of doing something like that...dive? No..."

This is a real foul, not a dive.
This is a real foul, not a dive.Clive Rose/Getty Images

The week after, this same manager is pulling out his hair, accusing everyone of conspiracy. Didn't anyone see how that was a clear dive? "Clear, clear dive any day...and this could cost us...it could cost us...the FA should do something about this..."

And depending on the accent on display, foreign or local, or the color of the flag at center stage, I'd be nodding my consent.

"Yes, the FA should do something about this."

It isn't so easy, though, if you are the beneficiary of a "not really a clear dive."  "Who even said it was dive? They clearly touched him; did you expect him to stay on his feet?"

This is the reason I thought Drogba's histrionics were funny.

Eyes tightly closed, Drogba later opened one eye to survey the scene, then closed it again and clutched his face tighter.

Again, Drogba's face hadn't been touched.

He was only enacting the drama we're so used to seeing in the modern game. Drogba, of course, is one of the better actors of this drama—not the best, for sure, but not far away either.

The irony here was that Drogba was playing the game the Italians are good at. They, however and unfortunately—for them, that is—couldn't play it. They had neither the leisure nor the time.

This is goal celebration, not a dive.
This is goal celebration, not a dive.Michael Regan/Getty Images

The common cliche, of course, is that the English don't dive, while the Italian, the South and Central Americans consider it normal and clever, so it's funny that it was the player of an English club who dived so blatantly.

It should be amusing and yet instructive that I pick the incident as my moment of the match.

It is a quick commentary on the tribal nature of football and on subjectivity and fanaticism, where, in the latter case, the person can't see anything wrong with his or her own player or club.

As many have pointed out, the fact that millions of pounds or euros ride on the outcome of matches, it is not surprising that players now resort to diverse measures to ensure victory for their team, and feigning injury to buy time, or diving to win a penalty or provoking an opposition player to have him sent off are just few of such measures.

We know, of course, of match fixing, an extreme example of corruption, a word that many think is not unconnected with FIFA's reluctance to incorporate technology into football.

Drogba's impeccable possum display is a homily on the fundamental psychology of the game, a searchlight on our most basic instinct, the inner compulsion to dominate the "other" at all cost.

But isn't this the primal impulse that drives the world?

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