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May 23, 2012

Statesman Drogba almost irreplaceable

Never mistake aesthetics for achievement. You can play beautifully and lose, play ugly and win. And that might just be why we love football. The 2011-12 season registers as one of terrific excitement despite there being a number of reverses for the possession football that has sent many a footballing pseud into masturbatory eulogy.

Chelsea's renovation of Bayern's Allianz Arena into a broken home was a triumph of will. It was also the end of an era. In the departure of Didier Drogba, Chelsea have lost their standard bearer, the key man in just about all the triumphs of Roman Abramovich's reign.

Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and John Terry remain, but perhaps of all of the quartet that have provided Chelsea's core ever since they started club's first game together under Jose Mourinho - a 1-0 defeat of Manchester United in August 2004 - Drogba may be the one who is truly irreplaceable. Chelsea has been a striker's graveyard for just about every forward since Abramovich arrived at Stamford Bridge. Except, of course, for Drogba.

Nu-Chelsea has seen a series of expensive striking flops come and go. Mateja Kezman, Claudio Pizarro, Adrian Mutu and most infamously Andrei Shevchenko all left the club under a cloud of underachievement. Hernan Crespo supplied a decent goal-to-game ratio but played just 49 games in a five-year association with the club, spending most of that time on loan in Italy.

And then there is Fernando Torres, who Drogba has anointed as the man to succeed him, a commendation made without barbs. Drogba, despite his on-field deportment, is a class act off the field. There may have been rivalry between the Spaniard and the Ivorian, but the warmth of their joint celebration in the afterglow of Munich was genuine.

Ever since Torres was purchased in January of last year, it has been clear that Drogba's days have been numbered. It is a mark of his fortitude that, 18 months later, Drogba was in a position to be a kingmaker for a £50 million purchase of a man said to be the only member of the playing staff who has Abramovich's private phone number.

Andre Villas-Boas' errors were numerous but his failure to praise Drogba for rescuing the Champions League campaign, and briefly his own employment status, with a wrecking-ball performance against Valencia was a prime pratfall. In such moments, Drogba has always been the go-to guy. It would not have hurt the Portuguese to have admitted it.

Drogba's departure looks likely to be to the highest bidder in Chinese football. Yet this move, despite suggested wages of £250,000 to £400,000 a week, is not an adjunct to avarice. Drogba has donated much to charity, even giving a £3 million sponsorship from Pepsi directly, and in full, to the building of a hospital in Abidjan. He may have much still to offer football, but he wants to offer something back to those less fortunate than him. "Drogba for president," as one African Tweeter had it.


Of course, Drogba's statesmanlike behaviour is thrown into stark contrast by that of John Terry. His changing into four different outfits throughout the evening in Munich was of course topped off by the donning of shinpads to lift the European Cup. One is left to wonder if, having gone to all that effort, he did not then choose to don his own captain's armband. Perhaps Frank Lampard is somebody shown a rare respect. And would Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic have been allowed such a wardrobe change had Terry not been suspended too?

Yet Terry's gatecrashing can also be viewed with an edge of sympathy. "That completely wipes it away," he said in reference to the miss in Moscow that cost the club a European title four years previously. Even Terry, the king of compartmentalising, cannot believe that. His own stupidity in Barcelona cost him his chance for true redemption and almost cost his team-mates, too. Despite a manful and lengthy commitment to the Chelsea cause, and despite his attempts to seize the moment of celebration, the pictures cannot hide that this moment of triumph was not fully his.

Should he ever enjoy any moments of quiet reflection, he would surely recognise this. Then again, perhaps not.


The Liverpool beauty contest to find a new manager has caused much confusion. And there is a cultural issue at its root. 'Football people' do not usually do their business this way, but the American model of sports management does.

Brendan Rodgers' dismissal of interest centred on the fact that a failure to land the Liverpool job could damage his command of matters at Swansea. Doing such things in public causes problems for applicants. In the real world, applying for a job is done in secret until it is time to tell your current employer that you have been made an offer. English and European football follow similar lines.

What we do know is that Liverpool seek a progressive coach, and a sporting director too, in the tradition of baseball's back - and front - office. It also appears that, having been swayed by sentiment in the choice of Kenny Dalglish last time, Fenway Sports Group will not be turning to Rafael Benitez, despite his exile on the Wirral. The social media clamour for Benitez's return has fallen on deaf ears.

We are left with a host of names being ground through the rumour mill. The problem for Liverpool is that the club's standing has dropped off significantly. Back in 2004, they were able to attract the manager who had won two Primera Liga titles and a UEFA Cup with Valencia in Benitez. His nearest equivalent now would be Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund, but he has already snubbed interest. Andre Villas-Boas, of similar ilk, would be an appointment wracked with risk; the Portuguese coach needs to rethink his management of both media and players to succeed in the English game.

David Dein, the former vice-chairman of Arsenal, has been sighted at Anfield this year, and is best known for his appointment of Arsene Wenger at Highbury when the Frenchman had been managing in Japanese football. The football world is much smaller these days, and such an appointment would not seem so leftfield now.

Fenway will know that the loss of further ground cannot be risked. After all, their interest is largely one of finance rather than philanthropy. They have chosen to take their time, and their own route. Their ends must justify their means. They need a Wenger, a leader who supplies instant results while changing the culture of the club at the same time.

Is such a man available these days?

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