Diao not critical of Drogba diving

STOKE’S Salif Diao claims Chelsea striker Didier Drogba’s tendency to frequently go to ground is “part of the entertainment” of football.

The pair are close friends and face each other in an FA Cup quarter-final – the Potters’ first in 38 years – at Stamford Bridge tomorrow.

Drogba has earned himself a reputation for diving and Diao said although he had spoken to the Ivory Coast international about it, he did not view it as a problem.

“Myself and others tell him to stop diving,” he said. “But it’s part of the show for him. It is not cheating, but part of the entertainment.”

Diao is full of admiration for a player he has known for a decade, having first encountered Drogba when the pair were playing in France.

And although Drogba has returned to top form with 25 goals in the current campaign, after struggling last season under Luis Felipe Scolari, Diao believes he can still get better.

“He has been a good friend for 10 years and as a character I would say we are very similar,” said the former Senegal international. “He has a winning mentality and knows what he wants. I think all the big players have that – the wanting to be always the best.

“We call him ‘The Project’ because we see him as someone who hasn’t finished yet. He is not the finished striker yet because he always wants to improve. He’s like Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. They know they have achieved, but they still work hard every day because they want to get even better.

“Africa has always had big, strong strikers, players like George Weah. But if Didier carries on and ‘The Project’ goes its full term, then I think he will be the greatest.”

Stoke head to Stamford Bridge as rank-outsiders but Diao does not believe there is a huge gulf between the sides. In their last two encounters two 94th-minute winners gave Chelsea the edge and that, says the midfielder, gives them encouragement.

“The good thing is that every time we play a big game, everyone is up for it,” he added. “Nothing is impossible. We have been playing so many games where people write us completely out, but that gives us more motivation to disappoint those people. We believe that on our day we can beat anybody.”

Chelsea will be without suspended midfielder Michael Ballack and the versatile Juliano Belletti. Defender Ricardo Carvalho will face a late fitness test after collecting a hamstring injury on international duty with Portugal, but the news is not so good for his international colleague, full-back Jose Bosingwa, who is out for the rest of the season.

Bosingwa underwent surgery on his left knee after suffering the injury against Aston Villa in October and he will also miss the World Cup finals with Portugal. The 27-year-old had returned to light training recently but he now requires further surgery.

Chelsea assistant coach Ray Wilkins insists Joe Cole will remain at the club despite reports of a rift between the England midfielder and owner Roman Abramovich.

It has been suggested that Cole and his representatives have infuriated the Russian with their hard-line stance over wages during contract talks.

The midfielder is understood to want in excess of £100,000 (€111,000) a week but he has failed to regularly start in Carlo Ancelotti’s side since returning from a serious knee injury last September.

“We are desperate to keep Joe,” said Wilkins. “I know the club are and we as a management group feel the same. It is a contractual situation that he and the club I am sure will sort out at a later stage.

“We sincerely hope he will be here next season. We would love to keep Joe. I am sure he and the club will sort it out. I would not have thought his form has been affected by the contract situation. I just think he has had a long lay off, something like 10 months, and it is never easy to come back.

“He was outstanding in the Carling Cup against Queens Park Rangers and then you find, when you have had a long lay off, that your form does drop.

“Joe has just had a dip in form. He has shown in certain games, when he has played, a lot more of that good form. He has got to get a little bit more consistency back and then there will not be a problem with him.

“I have spoken to Joe on numerous occasions. He loves Chelsea. He wants to stay at Chelsea and I am sure that the club and his people will sort the situation out.”

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