Dealing with Didier
“If John Terry wants to unsettle Didier Drogba – he should kiss him, not kick him.”
February 25th, 2014
That piece of advice came this week from a contact who knows Drogba as well as anyone, and is fully aware that under the facade of a politician lies a writhing mix of emotions.
In a sport largely characterised by simple souls, Drogba is a complex guy.
And those complexities will loom large over Chelsea’s double header with Galatasaray.
To most, the Ivorian is utterly inscrutable.
I met him countless times in mixed zones across Europe during the eight years he wore Chelsea’s blue.
Always polite; always earnest; seldom giving much away. His answers were unswervingly calculated: not necessarily a straight bat – he never feared talking the talk about footballing matters – but pretty much always a line you felt was prepared.
Others who worked far closer than I did with him over that time say the same: that Drogba wears a veneer so thick, it is difficult to know who he really is.
But just one of many Drogba paradoxes is barely buried below that bomb-proof case – that he is a man driven by emotion.
Friends, team mates – all talk about how he is a one-off, who cares deeply about people and issues, and makes those close to him feel special.
Every time I, or another reporter, asked Malouda, Mikel, Lampard, Terry or whoever about yet another remarkable feat (on or off-pitch) from him, the response was the same: “That’s Didier.”
Another apparent clash within his personality lies in how he approaches the thing many say drives him most – cash.
Drogba clearly does follow the money: it was what initially brought him to Chelsea; and, later, the thing that ultimately drove him away (though the timing was, of course, exquisite).
It is also what has taken him to Galatasaray.
All players are, to some extent, driven by money. Those who say they play for the love of the game speak only from the point of view of one who has already paid off the mortgage on their mock-Tudor mansion.
But another individual who worked very closely with him throughout his Stamford Bridge years once told me: “Didier is all about the money.”
They went on to say that the offer on the table to keep him at Chelsea in 2012 would have ‘only paid for one arm or one leg by his own valuation’.
But, on the flip-side: has any man in sport given away more riches?
The money his foundation, and through that he himself, has given to helping counter poverty in his own Ivory Coast and beyond is nothing short of remarkable.
Plus, there are the bold personal statements: the almost £1m worth of diamond-studded gold rings he handed out to ex-team mates, purchased with his own cash, as mementos of the Champions League win.
All of which again points back to that highly emotional state he occupies.
The two games between Chelsea and Galatasaray will be charged with all sorts of emotions. And Drogba will be the focus of a good proportion of them.
Whereas, time and time again, opponents that tried to show him the rough and tumble were rewarded with swan dives and ensuing penalties; psychological warfare has been far more effective.
Screaming into the camera about the ‘f***ing disgrace’; going completely missing for an hour, before being subbed-off during his return to Olympique Marseille’s Stade Velodrome with Chelsea.
Sticks and stones may indeed break his bones, but love and kisses are what will really hurt him.