Chelsea fans are riding at an all-time high right now.
Just three weeks removed from the biggest win in the club's history, they are now likely to make their first signing of the summer-transfer window.
And it happens to be the biggest name available: Eden Hazard.
But the bright lights of success can sometimes blind the delegate into missing some pretty basic issues—one being that the team is currently without a coach. While the club is still searching the globe for the man who will take the lead in sustaining this new-found glory, most observers are assuming it will be the same manager who took them there in the first place—Roberto Di Matteo.
It was not more than a few weeks ago that owner Roman Abramovich looked to defy the wishes of fans and reel in another big name coach the club. But the combination of Champions League success and public pressure has him rumored to be leaning toward naming Di Matteo the full-time manager.
But is this really the best move for him and the club?
This article intends to present a few reasons why he may not be. Now, if you are at all familiar with my work you know that I would like nothing more than for Di Matteo to be given the post he earned. I am trying to play devil’s advocate here, debating with myself and you readers as to whether there is a better option out there.
So before you bash me for being a flip-flopping dunce, give these five reasons a quick read over and let me know whether or not I am grabbing at loose strings.
It has become a running joke in the footballing community that every day a manager survives at Stamford Bridge is just one day closer to getting canned.
Roman Abramovich is not shy with his trigger finger, quick to pull out from underneath his managers the very expensive Persian rug he gives his them upon their arrival.
The latest victim was, of course, Di Matteo’s predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas. In hindsight, it was absolutely the right move, but at the time it was met with as much skepticism as the many controversies surrounding this locker room.
Most thought Villas-Boas would be spared just for the sheer amount of money it cost to bring him in. But as long as gas remains £5 a gallon, I am sure our beloved czar can always find a few extra notes between the seats of his Maserati.
Why would Di Matteo want to risk the prospect of failure and the embarrassment of being abruptly sacked for no real good reason?
With the club not even investing that much money to bring him in, there is also very little financial impact by his dismissal. You could even possibly foresee him being gone should the club be anything less than perfect and a manager Abramovich really wants becomes available.
But in terms of what could be the best fit for Di Matteo, he may want to look elsewhere.
Being in charge of the best is not always the best place to be. The fact that Di Matteo has set the bar at a Champions League title already means anything less from his team will be deemed a failure.
That kind of pressure can wear on an individual, no matter who he or she is.
Just take a look at the toll taken on Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola. The man who put together one of the best teams in the history of the game went one season without a major piece of silverware (despite winning the Copa del Rey), and he was all but forced to resign.
But what Di Matteo's success does is provide him options elsewhere. He could make a lateral move to another highly regarded club such as Liverpool, or take a step lower to an Aston Villa or even go back to West Brom. He could find himself going to the mainland, as well—perhaps attempting to reinvigorate a fledgling Roma or Fiorentina.
Wherever else he decides to go, the goals there will be much more achievable than anything he is expected to meet at Chelsea.
I was perhaps the biggest supporter and defender of the Chelsea's “park-the-bus” style of play.
This style was incredibly effective with the players the club currently has. It maximized Chelsea’s strength, especially on the counter, and maximized their abilities to create a fair amount of offense, even with players who have limited playmaking skills.
But the style of play only works if that is the direction the team wants to go.
The downfall of Chelsea’s last two managers—Carlo Ancelotti and Villas-Boas—was that they tried working into their systems players whose skill sets didn't fit. There was no way the direct style and aerial game of Ancelotti would benefit Fernando Torres, just like the high defensive line and open midfield left the Chelsea vets out to dry.
With the arrival of Eden Hazard and more links to “modern” attack-minded players, you have to wonder how it will all fit into Di Matteo’s tactics.
Of course there is always the reasonable assumption that he could change his style of play to better fit the players he has, as most good managers do (*cough*Villas-Boas*cough*). Whether or not he can succeed in doing this remains to be seen.
If Abramovich wants to continue his push toward a more indirect style of play, that is fine. But he must find the right manager for the job and surround him with the proper players.
Let’s face it, Di Matteo was walking into a pretty good spot.
Many Chelsea fans were over the failed experiment of Villas-Boas, and anyone coming into replace him would have been greeted with cheers. Likewise, Di Matteo had the instant respect of the players, who saw him as the savior from the Portuguese devil.
I am sure that many of the stars had confided in him their dislike for Villas-Boas well before he was sacked.
He could have finished the season trophy-less and not gotten them into Champions League next season. The easy excuse would be that he was an interim manager—what did you expect? The fact that he was so successful was just a big bonus, but it is what eventually saved the season.
Next year, it won’t be quite the same.
With a whole season ahead of him, the game plan will have to be much different; such drubbings as 4-1 to Liverpool and being outplayed for 90 minutes by Newcastle will not be tolerated. He will surely encounter rough patches, and his ability to navigate those challenges will determine his success as a manager.
I wrote quite a bit about Villas-Boas, how he was challenged for the first time at Chelsea. His one season with Porto was nothing short of perfect, so he never had the media, fans or players putting on the pressure.
When that pressure was applied at Stamford Bridge, it became all too much and he cracked.
We are not really sure how pressure will affect Di Matteo, as he was under little the few months he was in charge. It is a gamble to keep someone who has never truly felt the weight of expectations.
It could be a fatal decision if it does not work out.
At this time last year, Roberto Di Matteo was an unemployed manager who was sacked from mediocre a side that won just one out of ten games.
He was then hired as an assistant—more for his background on the club and knowledge of the English game than anything. Now he is the first manager to ever win a Champions League in an interim role and, therefore, he has become a club legend.
Why mess with that?
I may not be the game's biggest romantic, but I do see how it appeals to the fans. We all love the stories behind the triumphs. Is there a better end to this historic season than for the two sides to amicably part ways? Would it not complete the myth of the caretaker—taking a side close to death and slowly bringing it back to life—to walk away into the sunset?
The risk of taking on a man whose myth was built so quickly and with so little burden is that time and stress can compromise the legend. The questions of what Di Matteo did and whether or not he really was responsible for the turnaround can create a controversial atmosphere.
Never will anyone be able to take away what was accomplished, but the way it was done could change the legacy.
This is, of course, a very emotional way to look at such a decision, but games are played with emotions, and the stories that emanate from them are big reasons why we watch.
Let me again remind you, I want Di Matteo to get the job.
I think what he has done has more than earned himself at least a one-year deal to see if he is for real. But I also see a few reasons why it may not all be peaches and cream.
The five reasons above are me trying to stand on the other side of the line and look at how the hiring of Di Matteo could negatively impact the team. After all, no matter who comes in as manager, success ends any qualms anyone may have.
So are any of these reasons enough to persuade you to consider options other than Di Matteo? Or am I just blowing hot air?
As always, please leave your comments below and thanks for reading!
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