Champions League: Chelsea Boss Roberto Di Matteo Already a Winner
Even if he wins the Champions League final against Bayern Munich on Saturday night, Chelsea interim manager Roberto Di Matteo still faces a wait to find out if it's enough for him to be offered the job on a full-time basis.
But, whether he gets it or not, the future looks bright for the 41-year-old. He will either be given the chance to prove himself at one of Europe's top clubs that he could not have imagined ever getting a year ago, or he will walk out of Stamford Bridge as one of the most eligible coaches around.
Blues owner Roman Abramovich is said to be sounding out other, more illustrious, potential candidates—The Guardian reports that Fabio Capello has registered his interest—but the Russian oligarch would have to come up with a very good reason for not hiring the current Italian incumbent if European glory is added to the FA Cup won at the start of the month.
Most job interviews are held in offices and boardrooms, often with poor air conditioning and uncomfortable seats, in front of a handful of people. Di Matteo's final assessment will be in the grand setting of the Allianz Arena with an audience of 66,000 inside the ground and an estimated 300 million watching on television across the globe (according to a report by Goal.com). It's an absurdly high-pressure situation, but Di Matteo has kept his calm and dignity throughout.
So far, he has been the ideal applicant; asserting his passion and commitment to the job on offer without coming across as desperate for it.
One of the staple questions in many a job interview is "where do you see yourself five years from now?". Not long ago, Di Matteo would have been forthright in answering that he hoped to be still in charge at West Bromwich Albion, pushing for a European place having consolidated their position as a Premier League side, even if his ambitions truly lay elsewhere.
Had he been asked the same question by Andre Villas-Boas upon being appointed the Portuguese's assistant last summer, the answer may well have been "doing your job".
While a cocky allusion to such naked ambition is a risky strategy under normal circumstances, as things have turned out at Chelsea it would have been the truth.
Since taking over after Villas-Boas was sacked at the start of March, Di Matteo has wrought an impressive turnaround in the club's fortunes.
Losing 3-1 to Napoli in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie, the result which all but did for Villas-Boas's nine-month tenure, Di Matteo's Chelsea overturned that result in thrilling style at Stamford Bridge to progress.
Should Roberto Di Matteo be Chelsea's next full-time manager?
Benfica—a team Manchester United couldn't beat in two attempts this season—were traversed at the quarterfinals before the Blues overcame Barcelona in an obdurate semifinal display that would have been hailed as tactical genius had it been Jose Mourinho in the away dugout at the Nou Camp.
Di Matteo has already salvaged a decent bit of silverware by winning the FA Cup this season, thrashing London rivals Tottenham 5-1 in the semis and outclassing Liverpool in the final.
He has also managed to achieve something which many thought even more unattainable than Chelsea reaching the Champions League final or winning the FA Cup: getting Fernando Torres scoring again.
In total, Di Matteo has won 13 and lost just three of his 20 games in charge for Chelsea, but the confidence and swagger which has returned to the Chelsea bench since he took over is as noticeable as the corresponding upturn in results.
It's a track record in deputising for the job that deserves to have him seriously considered for getting it on a permanent basis, and his CV (for the most part) points to a steady upward trajectory that has led to this point.
In his first year in management he led MK Dons to a third-place finish in League One, only to lose on penalties to Scunthorpe in the lottery that is the playoffs.
He was then headhunted by West Brom, who he led to automatic promotion to the Premier League in his first season, finishing second in the Championship behind Newcastle, who won the division with a record points total having kept most of their star from the previous campaign's relegation.
However, his upwardly-mobile career hit the buffers for the first time when he reached the top flight, and he was sacked in February 2011 after a disastrous run of 13 defeats in 18 games left the Baggies facing relegation.
Such a significant blot on Di Matteo's copybook is difficult to ignore, especially when considering the size of the task he would face at Chelsea. The major rebuilding work required when Villas-Boas took over last summer will be even more urgent, with all of the senior players a year older and UEFA's financial fair play rules beginning to bite. If Di Matteo's time at West Brom went so awry after a year, is he really the ideal candidate to oversee the creation of a new era at Stamford Bridge?
Then again, the job he has done in his short time at the helm in SW6 has put him in the shop window for the many clubs in England, Italy and beyond who may be looking for a manager over the next few months and would be only too happy to snap him if Chelsea decide against keeping him. How many clubs could reasonably pass up the chance to hire the guys who got Chelsea to the Champions League final, going two games unbeaten against Barcelona along the way?
Whatever happens at the Allianz Arena on Saturday, and in the ensuing weeks, it seems highly unlikely that Di Matteo will spend the summer sat at home, waiting for the phone to ring.
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