Roberto Di Matteo must be one of the luckiest men alive right now. The Italian has pulled off a modern day miracle. But if Chelsea fans think they have the manager they’ve been waiting for since the sad day Mourinho was given his marching orders from Stamford Bridge, they are for the most part wrong.
There is no denying that Chelsea are in a better position than they were in back when Andre Villas-Boas was in charge. They were a team in disarray; their top goal scorer was in and out of the squad and they were on the brink of prematurely falling out of the competition oil tycoon owner Roman Abramovich cherishes most.
The news every Chelsea fan wanted to hear had finally broke. Andre Villas-Boas was Chelsea history, but assistant coach Roberto Di Matteo had been given the job until the end of the season. It seemed that if any man was to take over till the summer, a man who was brought in by Villas-Boas with little Premier League coaching experience was the last man Chelsea would want or even need.
It has to be said that nobody would had expected Chelsea to have achieved as much as they now have. With an FA Cup final victory, Champions League final and only 2 league losses since Di Matteo replaced Villas-Boas in the hot seat. It isn’t however that AVB didn’t have the tactical or even motivational expertise to achieve any of that. This is a very experienced batch of Chelsea players, many of whom have played together for a long time. It is quite simple, they didn’t want to play under Andre Villas-Boas and so they effectively didn’t.
The biggest problem for Chelsea under Villas-Boas was their defending. Chelsea were leaking goals. They needed to fix this problem if they were to have any chance of turning their ailing season around. As Baggies boss, Di Matteo had just 1 Premier League clean sheet in 24 games. If Chelsea needed somebody to tighten the defence up, this did not seem to be the man.
Di Matteo’s largest task at hand was keeping Chelsea in the Champions League. Mission miraculously accomplished. Despite this being a night of glory and rejuvenation, it was also the first sign of what was really going on. The power struggle at Stamford Bridge was well and truly over. The sight of John Terry hawking out instructions from behind his interim boss Roberto was a disturbing sight. Even worse was how Terry even seemed to explain the decision to Di Matteo, like a teacher to a confused child. The old guard had control.
Even during the recent FA Cup final victory over Liverpool, Di Matteo immediately set about the Wembley turf searching for a player to grasp and celebrate with, he wasn’t immediately embraced like the genius Mourinho would have been following such a momentous victory.
Roberto Di Matteo cannot even be blamed though. After seeing what happened to Andre Villas-Boas one of Europe’s hottest managerial properties after taking on the Chelsea big wigs. He’ll be content just playing up to their ego’s and taking the glory when things go well, and gladly leaving through the back door without the fear that his coaching career had taken a hit if not given the job permanently.
Terry continues to give the same answer when questioned about Villas-Boas and his ill-fated reign: ‘He just tried to change things too quickly’ but why shouldn’t he John? Chelsea are supposedly in a period of transition yet a man brought in to lead the transition is lambasted. The longer Chelsea wait to replace a midfielder like Frank Lampard, capable of scoring 20 goals in a season the harder it will get. Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba are not even the players they once were. Who would had thought Chelsea would be battling for their place in the top 4 this time last season?
For once you cannot question Abramovich’s motives when signing Torres back in January 2011. He wanted to replace Drogba. He had even realised they could not rely on an aging striker for 30 goals anymore. Torres and Drogba were never intended to be joint strikers. The quicker the focus on Drogba goes, the quicker Torres will be able to eclipse the successes Drogba has achieved in a blue shirt.
Acquisitions such as Marko Marin, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku further show that efforts are being made to freshen up this aging squad. Only until after this summer transfer window can we identify just how committed ‘Abramovich and Co.’ are to ushering Chelsea into a new age. The likes of Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou have to be cut if new signings are to get their chance in the first team squad and Didier Drogba may realise his time at the Bridge has to come to an end.
The sad thing for Di Matteo is how quickly this could turn sour. If Chelsea do manage to win the coveted Champions League trophy this season then suspend all betting as Di Matteo will have the job. The main issue is that the moment Chelsea hit any bout of poor form; Di Matteo will be a very vulnerable man, especially with the likes of Guardiola skulking around. Roberto has an indubitable lack of experience as a manager and it will be this fatal flaw that gets exposed in the long term.
As Wenger says, any player can play well for two weeks during an international tournament; it is whether they can sustain such form throughout a season that managers must look at. That same logic certainly applies to management; it is much easier to manage a club on a temporary basis without the weight of expectation on you, rather than be given the job and all that pressure permanently. Kenny Dalglish’s second coming at Liverpool is testament to this.
This may all be urging on the side of pessimism but it is true. If an experienced coach like Carlo Ancelotti can get the boot for a trophy less season despite a debut season double, what could possibly protect Di Matteo? The possible lack of Champions League football next year will make things even harder if Di Matteo was to then still get the job.
Di Matteo would need to take a stand sooner or later as there is certainly no sustainability to this. The decision to rely on Drogba, Lampard and Terry and give them freedom of the team won’t be the acts of “genius” they have been portrayed as this season a few years down the line. This season Drogba and Lampard still only have 16 combined league goals. In the 2009-10 season they had 51 goals between them. Let’s be serious now, it is time for a change.
All eyes now switch to Munich. A make or break game for Chelsea’s season. Now that Champions League football also rides on a victory, the future of Chelsea’s rebuilding scheme will be in the balance also. The main problem is that the boss won’t even be in the dugout, he will be in the stands. Best of luck though John!