Chelsea Search for Another Manager to Live Up to Roman Abramovich's Expectations

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistNovember 21, 2012

Chelsea's decision to "part company" with Roberto Di Matteo on Wednesday morning was simultaneously shocking and not all that surprising.

Shocking in that, despite a 3-0 loss to Juventus that left them on the brink of being knocked out of the Champions League, you never quite expect a club to react in such a decisive manner in their attempt to rectify things.

But this is Chelsea, and the past decade has shown that Roman Abramovich and the other decision-makers in the Stamford Bridge hierarchy will accept only the very best.

Di Matteo couldn't have done much more in this respect, winning the FA Cup and Champions League within months of becoming caretaker manager.

But football, like most things, is a "what have you done for me lately?" business.

And apparently Di Matteo hasn't been doing enough.

There has always been a feeling that the Italian would have to continue to perform exceptionally to keep his job with the shadow of the currently jobless Pep Guardiola hovering over him, but even then the logical assessment was Di Matteo would get until the end of the season.

But logic doesn't necessarily apply to Chelsea.

They have acted swiftly to make a change in the belief that, despite his initial success, Di Matteo is just not good enough, even though the likelihood is that Guardiola will continue his sabbatical until next summer.

In the statement announcing Di Matteo's sacking, Chelsea revealed they "will be making an announcement shortly regarding a new first team manager".

At the time of writing Rafael Benitez is the favorite with English bookmakers to get the job (indeed, he was reported by several newspapers including The Guardian as being sounded out even before this morning's announcement).

But whether it is him, Harry Redknapp or Avram Grant (who remains friends with Abramovich) acting as interim boss until Guardiola takes over in the summer, the question has to be asked: can anyone truly live up to Abramovich's expectations?

Di Matteo won him the trophy he wanted most, but when things got quite iffy in the club's attempts to try to win it again (as well as the Premier League), he was removed.

Yet, the same issues that Di Matteo had to contend with will remain for whomever is appointed next.

The likelihood is that it will be an interim appointment, and they will be granted clemency for the remainder of the campaign with the knowledge that there might not be much they can do about keeping the Blues in the Champions League.

Benitez might well get some luck and they progress in that competition, where his experience might prove helpful and he might be able to get the best out of his former Liverpool striker Fernando Torres.

If it is Redknapp, the English core at the club might respond to his back-to-basics approach, with their talented foreign, creative teammates reveling in the freedom he grants them to go and play.

And either of them, or whoever comes in, might lead Chelsea to success this season.

But what comes next?

If the interim appointment was kept on as a permanent manager, the pressure would immediately be upped as they are tasked with sustaining their initial success.

But with competition in the Premier League (and on the continent) so strong, even their best work might not be enough if some other team is doing better.

Guardiola might be viewed as the ideal candidate by Chelsea, but he will face these same difficulties as anybody.

The job he did at Barcelona was phenomenal, but as a long-time player and coach at the club, he knew the philosophy and players so well as to be able to jump in and deliver silverware virtually straight away.

It might not be so simple at Chelsea.

For all the talent they undoubtedly possess (and will continue to add), there is not an ingrained way of playing as there is at Barca, so while there is the potential for Guardiola to succeed with this team, it feasibly might take time for things to really click.

As was the case with Carlo Ancelotti, Abramovich would be intelligent enough to realize that a manager he had pursued with some vigor would not necessarily deliver all-conquering success overnight and would need to be viewed with some patience.

But patience wears thin with the Russian, and it would last at most for a season (and only then if one of the major trophies is still won).

Even for a manager of Guardiola's remarkable pedigree, there is no guarantee.

Is there a manager capable of living up to Abramovich and Chelsea's expectations?

Someone else is going to get the chance to try and answer that question soon enough.


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