Roberto Di Matteo: Chelsea Boss Has to Be Only Option for Permanent Contract
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Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo has to be owner Roman Abramovich's only option to take the Blues' job on a permanent basis.
The 41-year-old—promoted to the manager's job until the end of the season following Andre Villas-Boas' sacking—has won six of the eight games he's been in charge of so far, including Saturday's 4-2 romp at Aston Villa.
Since Villas-Boas left after that acrimonious 1-0 defeat to West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea have progressed to the semifinals of the FA Cup, the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League (and look set for the semis after trouncing Benfica 1-0 in Portugal) and have cut the gap to fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur to just two points.
And Di Matteo has also done what AVB and Carlo Ancelotti failed to do—get £50 million man Fernando Torres back on form.
The 27-year-old striker has featured in seven of the eight games the new manager has been in charge for, and in that time he has scored three goals and made two assists.
The former West Brom and MK Dons manager has also successfully brought the "old guard" back into action, with John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Petr Cech, Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou enjoying something of a renaissance under the new boss.
But besides the current success Di Matteo is having with Chelsea, what makes him right for the role on a full-time basis?
His tactics and style on the pitch.
Ever since Jose Mourinho—famous for the disciplined approach he gives his teams on the pitch—left Chelsea, the Portuguese manager's tactical blueprints have remained firmly imprinted on the team.
Should Di Matteo Get The Job Full-Time?
That is why attack-minded coaches Luiz Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas failed at the club, and why catenaccio-mad Carlo Ancelotti had much more success—winning the Premier League and FA Cup while at the club.
Roberto Di Matteo, being Italian, favours the defensive approach, with the philosophy that defence is the best form of attack.
It's an approach to the game which most of the current players had great success with under Mourinho and Ancelotti. It's what they are most familiar with—which subsequently has led to their improved form.
When a manager goes back to proven winning ways, it's always going to go down well with the team, and it's clear that until the cycle of this Chelsea side ends, any other approach will be almost impossible to implement on the current crop.
And apart from his tactical ideas, Di Matteo is also the right character to take Chelsea forward.
After all, almost every Chelsea manager to lead the club in the Roman Abramovich era has eventually found themselves doomed.
Why? Because they have big personalities and egos, which clash with that of the Russian billionaire.
Jose Mourinho kicked off the era with a bang, but his time ended after disagreeing with the owner—by which time the attention surrounding the club was much more about the manager than the players.
Luiz Felipe Scolari came into the role soon after with as big an ego, having won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002.
But he left after only seven months at Stamford Bridge, letting his own agenda get in the way as he pushed Abramovich to ditch a significant chunk of the squad in favour of a younger set-up.
Then there was Carlo Ancelotti, who took the job as a prized manager from his time at AC Milan.
His first season went well, as he utilised virtually all of the players given at his disposal and just focused on the managing the team.
But then came round two, and the signing of Fernando Torres, a decision the manager clearly didn't make and perhaps wasn't even consulted on.
Clearly this caused friction between the manager and the Chelsea hierarchy, and in the end it was effectively Ancelotti's stubbornness and personal pride that caused him to refuse to fully integrate Torres into his tactical set-up.
It led to a lacklustre finish to the campaign, a trophyless season and ultimately the manager's demise.
And of course there's Andre Villas-Boas, who had the right ideas and approach in theory (bless him), but just couldn't bring himself down to the players' level.
Only two managers in the Abramovich era who remained understated found success—Guus Hiddink won the FA Cup with Chelsea in 2009, and the year before Avram Grant was one penalty-kick away from becoming a UEFA Champions League winning manager with the Blues.
Roberto Di Matteo is a manager, and man, who fits in the latter category.
Since he has been in charge, the focus has been all about the players, and the manager has been keen to subtly emphasise that in every media interview.
His comments after the team's win over Aston Villa summed up his approach. When asked about Fernando Torres—who scored his first Premier League goal in six months—and his form, Di Matteo said:
I have always said it doesn't matter who scores. Fernando has been providing goals for others and now he has scored as well. It was a tremendous goal.
Compare that to Villas-Boas, who was asked about Frank Lampard's future following his record-breaking goal—overtaking legend Jimmy Greaves in the all-time goalscoring charts—in a 3-0 win at home to Bolton Wanderers:
I hope he will be here but it does not depend on me. It depends on three parts: I have to want him, the person has to want to stay and the club has to want him.
And responding to whether Lampard should play more, the 34-year-old manager said:
I take no instructions from anybody. The word legend represents exactly that. He is a player who has been involved for all managers before and played in most of the games—just a couple of games missed through injury.
The only difference this year from the years before is that we have more competition in midfield and things become more difficult for everybody. But Frank is now in the top five of players most used [by Chelsea] so he is up there with the best.
Villas-Boas clearly thought about his own agenda ahead of the team's in this case, and he made it clear through the media that his personality was going to stay strong.
But unlike Di Matteo, the young Portuguese tactician was anything but understated when talking about his players.
He had more to say on the issue and made a lot of his comments about himself—which inevitably whipped up more of a media frenzy and clearly caused more friction between the players and the boss.
His former assistant Di Matteo, on the other hand, has had much less to say since taking the top job, and has kept his public thoughts solely about the players.
It's that quiet approach that has allowed the Chelsea squad to focus on their football above all else, and it's clearly paying dividends at the moment.
History has proved so far that under Roman Abramovich, the managers who succeed most are those who keep quiet, focus on the job, play defence-minded football and keep every bit of media attention on the players.
Roberto Di Matteo has done exactly that right now—as well as throughout his management career.
If he keeps the same approach, the current results are likely to continue, and the managerial shortlist for next season should, and probably will, be whittled down to just one name—his.
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