LONDON — It should have been no surprise that Chelsea accepted its Champions League knockout by Barcelona with all the grace of a pack of hyenas.
The Blues — an appropriate nickname given the language of Didier Drogba to referee Tom Henning Ovrebo as the Norwegian official left the field — have done too much previously for what happened at Stamford Bridge to be out of character.
If anything it was in character, because the Football Association has fined Chelsea consistently for its players threatening and harassing match officials, so their appalling behavior was par for the course.
Yes, Ovrebo had a poor game. No, UEFA should not have appointed such a relatively inexperienced referee for such a high-profile game, but that does not justify or excuse Chelsea’s reactions.
Kids copy their heroes.
One can only hope UEFA now gets it right by throwing the disciplinary book — make that a volume — at Chelsea and particularly Michael Ballack and Drogba. However frustrated and hurt they were . . . however high emotions run when you are the victims of injustices . . . these are experienced, highly paid professionals who acted like thugs.
UEFA’s stance was that it can only act if Ovrebo or the match delegate mention it in their official report to European football’s ruling body. While Ovrebo may not want the issue to drag on, Drogba cannot be allowed to get away with the sort of behavior that brings the game into complete disrepute.
Let us hope Ovrebo and the match delegate are “advised” to go all the way to ensure fans see that UEFA hands out a natural sense of justice.
Even Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, who usually protects his players in the face of the indefensible, would not defend Drogba’s foul-mouthed tirade. Taylor said: “It will have to be punished (by UEFA).”
With sad predictability Chelsea captain John Terry, who also strongly remonstrated with Ovrebo, did defend the reactions of his teammates and Drogba in particular.
“I am fully behind Didier for the way he reacted,” said Terry. “The man wants to win. You can see the passion that he played with during the game and the passion afterwards.”
So the England captain believes chasing after a referee, having to be pulled away by stewards and swearing at a television camera is passion. Now we know.
One wonders what passion Terry would not condone.
We often hear that a referee is a “homer,” but Ovrebo was an “awayer” with Barcelona the recipients of two — not four as Chelsea claimed — generous penalty decisions.
Against that Eric Abidal was sent off and misses the final against Manchester United after Nicolas Anelka effectively fell over his own legs and was not tripped by the Barcelona left-back as Ovrebo adjudged.
In the heat of the moment Chelsea forgot that in the first leg Thierry Henry’s shirt was clearly tugged by a Chelsea defender in the Nou Camp but referee Wolfgang Stark gave no penalty, as he should have.
The standard of refereeing at the highest level in Europe is as low as it has been for five years, but that discussion can wait for another day.
Millions of people, including children, would have seen and heard the despicable Drogba use the F-word when calling Ovrebo “a disgrace” in the pandemonium after the final whistle. Ovrebo made honest mistakes though the disgrace was not the Norwegian, but Drogba, who amazingly finds new ways of becoming less popular.
Here is a guy built like a brick house who has the pain threshold of a baby, someone who seems to have movable agony — when an opponent collides with him and hits him on the shoulder he usually goes down holding his face.
One of the more unbelievable (but true) statistics in English football is that the player known as Drogba the Diver (among other unprintable things) has never been cautioned for simulation, so officially he should really be called Drogba the Non-Diver.
Drogba’s partner in grime, Ballack, chased Ovrebo just before the final whistle after the referee didn’t award Chelsea a penalty when the German drilled a shot that struck the shoulder of Samuel Eto’o.
It was one penalty decision Ovrebo got right, but Ballack pursued the referee and twice touched him. How Ovrebo did not show the Chelsea midfielder the red card only he knows. It took leniency to a new level.
It was a cruel way for Chelsea to lose when the excellent Andres Iniesta scored in the third minute of stoppage time with Barcelona’s first shot on target, canceling out Michael Essien’s superb 30-meter volleyed opening goal.
The home side had defended bravely as Barca, which had 70 percent of the possession, came at it like a yellow tidal wave, yet somehow Petr Cech was relatively inactive.
Any sympathy for Chelsea went out of the window as its players became hooligans.
Had a fan yelled the expletives Drogba did at the camera after the game, Chelsea would no doubt have banned the supporter from Stamford Bridge for life.
Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.
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