Roberto Di Matteo is still technically listed as the interim manager for Chelsea FC. However, his performance thus far in the role is increasing support in the notion of him becoming the full-time boss starting next season.
From his triumphant night three weeks back as the Blues valiantly overcame their deficit to Napoli in the Champions League to them cruising in the FA Cup, there is an energy overtaking the club that was absent under Andre Villas-Boas.
Chelsea still have a long way to go before they can consider this season not a total loss. Failure to qualify for the Champions League next season would leave a bitter tinge amongst the supporters. But the optimist would see that as still improbable and add on an FA Cup and perhaps a European semifinal.
By season’s end, we may all be ready to forget about the embarrassment that was the 2011-12 campaign, but if for any reason we can look back on it and smile, it will be because of a our favorite bald Italian.
Here are six reasons why he is the man to take charge next season.
This is a banal and perhaps a lame reason, but it will be very important in whatever decision the club takes in their next manager.
With Financial Fair Play regulations beginning the rear its ugly head, Chelsea need to mind their expenses. The club is reportedly a long way off from satisfying the stipulations of FFP regulations. The dismissal of Villas-Boas did not help their cause, as everything from buying out Ancelotti’s contract to doing the same for Villas-Boas cost the club nearly £50 million.
That figure will surely rise to even exponentially greater proportions if another big name were to come to the helm.
Already the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho have been floated out there, with the latter rumored to cost around £12 million a year. If that is not crazy enough, Guardiola has a standing offer to “name his price” to get him to the Bridge.
Even if either were to come, they would likely have to make do with an aging and incomplete squad, as there would be little left in the coffers to finance any big transfer deals.
Di Matteo would offer probably the best possible choice, given the cost. As this is his first time in charge of a club of this nature and he has little successful history as a manger, the club would not be inclined to offer him the sums the others would ask. Di Matteo would be equally understanding that he is not at the level of the others in terms of pay.
Signing him for a reasonable sum, but still acceptable by the standards of reasonability, would allow the club to remain on a more fixed budget, as well as give them the financial capabilities to go out and get a few new players.
If Di Matteo could extrapolate what he has done in his short time in charge over an entire season, then this could potentially be the best deal Abramovich ever makes.
Too much is made about the manager who believes in the player. So often we like to romanticize the notion of a coach who plays a player because he has a “feeling” that he will be have an excellent game. It only strokes the ego of the manager further when the player no one expected to be out there comes up big in the moment for no reason other than “he wanted it more.”
However, more often is the case that that “feeling" turns out to be a false prophecy, leading to the embarrassment of the player who is out of place and the manager who chose him.
Di Matteo does not play around with this junk. He does not attempt to win over the hearts of the fans with surprise lineups meant to evoke some sort of emotional response. His lineups are cold, calculated and meant only to give his team the best chance to win.
When I saw the lineup that was set to play Benfica, I was nervous. I think most were as they saw Drogba, Essien and Lampard on the bench in favor of Mikel, Meireles and Kalou. But it turned out to be the right move, as the speed of Benfica was quelled by the equally quick legs of Chelsea.
It was a daring lineup to say the least, but unlike Villas-Boas’ against Napoli, there was no agenda behind it other than to win. Drogba, Lampard and Essien were not benched because he “felt” that they could not play against Benfica; they were benched because he knew they were not as fast as the opposition.
As long as Di Matteo makes decisions based on what’s best for the present, he will always be using his head and continue to get results.
There is nothing quite like the English media. How many managers have they singlehandedly sacked over the years? Villas-Boas was at least one of them. Looks like Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish could be their next.
Managing football in England is more than about x’s and o’s, understanding your players or even getting wins. To have longevity, you must also be able to navigate the treacherous waters of the tabloids.
Villas-Boas turned on the media and the once savvy, bright-eyed smile became a constant scold, branded by the media as an incompetent manager. He provided them with the material they would use to build his coffin and seemed to only upgrade the quality as the end neared.
What has Di Matteo said so far? Here is a sample of some of his quotes:
“I don't want to talk about the past; that is something that has been done and dusted. We can only look forward.”
“That's not important. What's important is that on Wednesday we qualify for the next round of the Champions League.”
“I just talk to the players, give them my opinions and explain the reasons behind my team selections”
These are just three things he has said over the past few days. Notice anything significant in them? No? That’s because there is nothing in them at all.
What many managers fail to realize is that in these press conferences, less information means more safety. If you give the media nothing to write about, then they have no way of twisting and manipulating your words to satisfy the gossip-hungry public.
It is no accident that you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of substantial quotes from Ferguson or Wenger over their many years of managing. The only reason they have been around so long is by the very careful and calculated way they handle the pundits.
It is a setback for us but we look forward to the future. Two weeks ago, we were seven points behind third place, now we are six. We need to look at these things because we are going in the right direction. We showed we can match the best teams in this league.
The first half of this quote is everything Chelsea fans already knew and the second half is how they all felt. It provides no kind of insight what so ever into anything.
Compare that to Villas-Boas following the loss to Napoli:
You can have your opinion but it was based on what was the best team in my thoughts. Whatever explanation I give you, in the end it would be a fantastic explanation if we'd won the game. Any explanation is now useless given the result of the game, so there's no point.
Now ask yourself which one you could make into the better story.
This is like something straight out of Good Will Hunting.
Here are all these brilliant tacticians who are suppose to be some of the biggest names in football managing. Rafa Benitez watched Fernando Torres slowly decline and offloaded him as soon as he could.
Carlo Ancelotti, forced to take him on, failed to ever make anything of the once fearless striker.
The Andre Villas-Boas, brought in for no reason short of making Torres live up to his £50 million bill, ultimately seemed to ruin him beyond repair.
And here comes Robert Di Matteo, playing the role of the quietly intelligent janitor from the hard streets of South Boston, roaming around with a kind of intuition and theory that these men of the world have lost as they became so wrapped up in their own narcissism.
Di Matteo is not a better manager than any of the aforementioned names, but it was that kind of unprofessionalism that allowed him to get the best out of Torres. He did something different—something outside of the book that most managers would not dare try.
Rather than blowing hot air at the out-of-form player, he boldly placed the onus on Torres’ shoulders, saying: "He has a psychological problem and only Fernando can unlock it. If he needs me, I am always here but it is obvious the change must come from him."
In no short way, he basically slapped Torres upside the head to awaken him from his self-pity weeping in the corner and sternly told him, “You are the reason you are not scoring. You are why everyone is saying you are the worst transfer in history. You are to blame for every one of your problems. Not the midfield, not the defense, not your fellow striking partners. YOU!”
What a novel idea! Rather than treating one of the game's most expensive players as a caudled child getting orange wedges at the half, he challenged to him to get better! Can you actually believe that a professional athlete liked a challenge? Shocking, I know!
Since that quote, Torres has scored three goals in six games and added another two assists. Chelsea is also 4-1-1 as a team.
The Singapore newspaper Today published an article titled “Di Matteo not ‘big enough’ for Roman.” The article itself is nothing more an a short write-up on some quotes from John Obi Mikel about how the team has always respected the manager. But the title leads to a very interesting notion.
The way it is phrased and presented in the piece, "not big enough" is meant to be a knock on the manager, that his name is not of the caliber Abramovich is use to hiring. But could that potentially be the very problem? Year after year, Chelsea bring in the biggest name in management, trying to replicate the Mourinho years, expecting instant success because of the history these managers have shown.
Could it be that that has been the problem all along?
It is hard to imagine the news of Di Matteo being announced as the full-time manager sending shock waves far outside of the Chelsea fanbase. It would not be something that would ultimately turn the tides in favor of the Blues.
Heck, many opposing fans would probably welcome such a “lowly” appointment.
However, this could be the very kind of minimal-publicity move that the club needs to make to get themselves back on their feet. Hiring another huge name would just be inviting more stress upon that manager and the players, expecting him to resurrect the club in the summer, implementing his style without upsetting the balance of the veterans.
The idea of him not being big enough for Abramovich could be one of the best selling points Di Matteo has.
You may be wondering where my slide is that discusses how he understands the veterans and he has brought the locker room together. As with most, it is what I have as being the defining achievement of his short-time charge, being able to bring everyone back together and get the most out of his players.
But if I were to write that slide, I would be implying that Villas-Boas was sacked for his failure to connect with the players. That would be naive.
For those who still think that the veterans' stubbornness forced Abramovich to make the hard move to let go of a young up-and-coming manager, you need to reevaluate your position. Yes, the player unrest may have been the ultimate flame that sent the fire out of control, but it was no means what sparked it in the first place.
Let’s not kid ourselves—every single problem Villas-Boas incurred along the way in his short tenure at the Bridge was due to his inability to win. The “players' revolt” was not one fabricated against some kind of false changing of the guard. It was a real struggle for legends that were used to winning, but were being forced to sit on the bench and watch as their team failed.
Lampard was not upset because he was not playing. He was upset because he was not able to help his team win. He had to sit by and watch as match after match his team fell and he was made increasingly obsolete, being played out of position or not at all.
Compare that to this past week. Lampard, Essien and Drogba all sat on the bench. They watched their team get a big win at Benfica in the first leg of their Champions League tie. What was their response following the game?
Drogba: “It is a great result. The most important thing is that we have scored that goal away from home.”
Lampard: "I spoke with Robbie and certainly had no issue with it. I was delighted to get the result we got. I came on in the last 20 minutes, anyway.''
A far cry from the vitriol they were hurling at Villas-Boas not more than a month ago.
Di Matteo is 6-1-1 in his first eight games in charge as the Chelsea manager. Villas-Boas was 5-2-1 in his. Compare the way the players discussed Villas-Boas then, and compare that to Di Matteo now.
We sometimes put too much stock into what players want. We try and think that their selfish greed knows no limits and all they care for is what best suits them. This may be true, but there is one universal that serves every player better than anything else: winning.
As long at Di Matteo continues to win, he will be the best choice to take charge at season's end.
History will tell you that odds are Di Matteo will not stick around. Avram Grant got Chelsea further in Champions League than anyone has before or since and still got his pink slip at the end of the season.
There is no denying the record that the interim manager has put forth, but whether or not he can sustain it over a long period of time when the pressure is stacked for him to win multiple trophies is yet to be seen.
So do you think Robero Di Matteo is the right choice to be the new Chelsea boss? Are my reasons enough to persuade you? Or are there other factors that should weigh in before we make a decision?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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