Roberto Di Matteo: Chelsea Would Be Making a Huge Mistake to Not Look Elsewhere
Let me begin by saying that I have nothing but the highest respect for Roberto Di Matteo.
Bleacher Report world football editor Will Tidey put it best in his stirring apologetic for Di Matteo, describing the only manager to earn Chelsea some Champions League silverware as a man who has "won over the players—and as Chelsea proved in the Champions League this season, the battle of hearts and minds can count as much as that of legs and feet when you're playing for high stakes."
But am I the only one who thinks the Blues brass needs to take a few weeks, cool the passion of having won domestic football's greatest achievement and look at this as though it were the multi-billion euro business it actually is?
Let's start with the Champions League. I'll be the first to admit Chelsea deserved the trophy. They outplayed their competition when they could and were as disciplined as gargoyle statues when they knew tactics were their only ace in the hole.
When up against a three-goal deficit to Napoli, the Blues went to Italy, dominated their Serie A opponent and stepped over their fallen opponent to face a similarly underwhelming Benfica side in the quarterfinals.
But when Di Matteo was up against far better opposition—like, say, Barcelona—he pulled Chelsea into its shell, counted down the minutes and played 10 men in the box, never letting Lionel Messi get a run at goal.
Similarly, saying Chelsea defeated Bayern Munich is a gross misunderstanding of what happened last Saturday night. Arjen Robben choked, Mario Gomez kicked more shots over Petr Cech than at him, Schweinsteiger is Schweinstired (joke credit to Dan Levy) and the rest of the team looked nervous at best.
Should Chelsea hire Di Matteo right away and not look elsewhere for other options?
According to ESPN, the German champions had 43 shots at goal to Chelsea's nine, 20 corner kicks to Chelsea's one and possessed the ball 56 percent of the match.
Di Matteo's plan looked like getting in the fetal position for 120 minutes, force a stalemate and roll the dice in PKs. The caretaker manager's plan almost worked, but he was lucky enough for his Blues to score on the only corner they managed the entire match.
Champions League aside, Di Matteo didn't do the best of jobs balancing league play with the FA Cup and the Champions League. After Andre Villas-Boas was fired and Di Matteo took over on March 4, Chelsea managed just a 5-3-3 record, suffering losses to Manchester City, Newcastle United and Liverpool, drawing with Tottenham, Fulham and Arsenal and barely defeating Stoke City and Wigan Athletic.
Villas-Boas was brought on to assemble and lead a new squad. The older players had too much power. Too much influence. Years ago, it was the strength of their clubhouse.
This year it was nearly their downfall.
Di Matteo is a gifted leader. But his greatest asset is his ability to direct veteran (sometimes diva) football players.
Chelsea may very well hire Di Matteo. If that's the case, I will be the first one to cheer him on come August. But the best football club in London (pains me to admit that as a Spurs fan!) would do well to broaden their search for a manager.
After all, wasn't a knee-jerk reaction to hiring Villas-Boas last summer what got them in this near-disaster to begin with?
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