Despite sources in Italy saying that Roberto Di Matteo may not be interested in the Sunderland job, Sunderland’s Director of Football Roberto De Fanti is recommending Di Matteo for the manager position, but Ellis Short and the Sunderland staff have their work cut out for them if they want to hire the former Chelsea manager as the man to replace Paolo Di Canio.
As the news spread of Di Canio’s sacking, names emerged from the pile of contenders for the vacant managerial post. Names such as Gus Poyet, Tony Pulis, Alex McLeish, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Gianfranco Zola have been mentioned in the same breath for the position. But Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to Champions League glory in 2012, is the bookmakers’ favorite for the job.
Di Matteo had humble beginnings. His managerial career began at MK Dons in July of 2008 after Paul Ince left for Ewood Park. The goal was to help the club win promotion with the new manager. To get there, Di Matteo pried his former teammate from Norway, the lanky Tore Andre Flo, out of retirement. The club finished third in League One in the 2008-2009 season. The club lost on penalties in the playoff semi-final to Scunthorpe United.
After Matteo left MK Dons, he became manager at West Bromwich Albion in June, 2009. In his first season at the Hawthorns, the club finished behind Newcastle in the Championship, which guaranteed promotion to the Premier League. A reunion of sorts for Di Matteo came on the opening day of the 2010-2011 Premier League season with a return to Stamford Bridge for the former club hero. The result was a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea, but Di Matteo managed to attain the manager of the month award for September. The tide turned for him when a series of losses in January saw the club falling down the table. By February of 2011, Di Matteo was given the proverbial pink slip. The club finished in the top half of the table in 11th place.
Then all roads seemed to lead back to home. A fan favorite at Chelsea as a player, Di Matteo was brought in as manager during March 2012 to replace Andre Villas-Boas.
As a former player and someone the fans recognized from the Chelsea squad of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Di Matteo struck an immediate chord with the Chelsea faithful, which was helped by a series of positive results in Europe and the Premier League.
Di Matteo brought in his Chelsea teammate Eddie Newton as his assistant to help maneuver the club out of the rut they were experiencing. Di Matteo started his stint as Chelsea manager in winning form, with victories over Birmingham City in a fifth round tie of the FA Cup, which was followed by three points against Stoke City. Then finally the miraculous turnaround in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League. This saw the club victorious with a 4–1 win to turn their fortunes around against Napoli from the first leg where Chelsea had lost 3–1 under Villas-Boas. Also Chelsea won the F.A. Cup final against Liverpool with a 2-1 victory.
Results continued to improve for the Italian with the amazing come-from-behind win at the Camp Nou against Barcelona, which saw Fernando Torres seal Chelsea’s ticket to the UEFA Champions League final in Munich, and a date with history. The eighth of a succession of managers under the Abramovich reign, Di Matteo was the first to come through the Stamford Bridge ranks to finally capture the elusive Champions League title. The final was written like a Hollywood script as the club’s legendary striker Didier Drogba took the honors of putting his final goal away for the club via a penalty kick.
Eventually, Di Matteo ran out of favor with the club the following season. A 3-0 loss away to Juventus in the Champions League sealed his departure. The decision was harsh, controversial and sudden. For many fans and pundits, Di Matteo had made significant progress at Chelsea culminating in their greatest triumph under Abramovich, as champions of Europe. Plus you only have to look at the win percentages of recent managers to see how well Di Matteo did in relation to his predecessors (and successors):
Rafa Benitez — 58% win percentage
Roberto Di Matteo — 57% win percentage
Jose Mourinho (2013-present) — 50% win percentage
Andre Villas-Boas — 48% win percentage
Di Matteo’s resume reads like a man who has suffered defeat and victory at the highest and lowest levels of English football both as a player and manager. Make no mistake that Sunderland is not Chelsea. If Di Matteo does take the hot seat at Sunderland, he’ll have a difficult task at hand to get the side playing together as a team and escaping relegation. But there’s enough talent in the team to piece together a winning formula.
Roberto Di Matteo offers experience managing in the Premier League. He was successful at Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion. He has the pedigree and track record to improve Sunderland as a football club. If Sunderland are unable to sign him as a manager, then the Black Cats will either have to hire someone who doesn’t have the experience managing at the top level, or will find someone who hasn’t coached in the Premier League for several years. Di Matteo is the wise choice. It’s time for him to return to Premier League management.