Wednesday November 21, 2012 marked yet another low in the modern world of football as Roberto Di Matteo was sacked as Chelsea manager just hours after a defeat against Juventus left them teetering on the brink of a Champions League exit.
In hindsight, no one should really be surprised at the news given the way things were panning out at Stamford Bridge, especially with Roman Abramovich’s history of trigger-happiness.
But for a man to be appointed Chelsea caretaker coach in March and dispensed of in November, mere months after earning a two-year permanent deal, leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
So, less than nine months after we discussed the ramifications of Andre Villa-Boas’ sacking for Chelsea, we return to the same topic, albeit for a different coach.
What does this mean for Chelsea this time?
Let’s look at eight things Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking reflects—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.
To understand the truly baffling nature of the sacking, let’s look at Roberto Di Matteo’s record in the past eight and a half months.
Here is a brief highlights reel in words.
A 4-1 home win over Napoli to overturn a 1-3 first-leg defeat and send Chelsea to the Champions League quarterfinals.
A 2-2 draw at Barcelona’s Camp Nou to take Chelsea into the Champions League final.
A 2-1 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup final.
A penalty shootout win to earn Roman Abramovich that most elusive of glories: the Champions League.
A single defeat in the opening 12 matches of the 2012-2013 Premier League campaign.
Yet 262 days after he was chosen to lead Chelsea in the wake of Andre Villas-Boas’ sacking, he has been let go.
What this shows in actuality is a skewed, unrealistic and frankly delusional outlook on the world of football on the part of Chelsea’s mega-rich owner, Roman Abramovich.
That he is obsessed with silverware is well-known. Roberto Di Matteo delivered two cups in his first three months.
That the Champions League was Chelsea’s Holy Grail was infamous. Di Matteo brought him the cup after a scintillating final.
That he wants an aesthetically pleasing style of football is legendary. Di Matteo, with the brilliant midfield trio of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, has brought that to Stamford Bridge this season.
So what more can Chelsea fans ask for?
The 2010-2011 season ended with Carlo Ancelotti failing to deliver any silverware after an impressive first year.
Andre Villas-Boas’ appointment to the Stamford Bridge hot-seat was supposed to herald a new era in which a smooth transition from the old guard to a new generation was supposed to be the key.
So Roberto Di Matteo was appointed, and he delivered two trophies.
But somehow, two wins in their last eight games has been deemed “not good enough” from Chelsea’s point of view.
To think that success can be everlasting in football, with its ups and downs and never-ending cycles, is simply a narrow world view that will not guarantee any long-lasting legacy at Stamford Bridge.
But then, perhaps that was never part of Abramovich’s agenda.
Which is why ex-Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, in so many circles deemed Roman Abramovich’s obsession as his dream Chelsea coach, should stay clear of Stamford Bridge at all costs.
It’s simple, really—Guardiola made his name as part of a long-lasting legacy at Barcelona, and in that vein he contributed massively to, and indeed left behind, a continued legacy at Camp Nou.
Guardiola enjoyed the full faith of the Barcelona board, the players, the coaches and the Academy, and was allowed to work his magic simply through the players that the Academy churned out year after year, all schooled in Barcelona’s tiki-taka model.
To implement a similar model at Chelsea would take massive amounts of time—look where Chelsea’s only notable recent youth graduate, Josh McEachran, is right now.
Perhaps Guardiola is the only man Abramovich would give this time and patience to, but for a coach so reliant on his own philosophy, Chelsea is not and will never be a good fit.
In any case, it seems that Rafa Benitez, the ex-Liverpool and Internazionale coach, is the favorite to take over at Chelsea (via the Guardian).
The initial rumors are that he will be handed a caretaker deal until the end of the season, similar to the deal he was offered back in March, and exactly the deal that Roberto Di Matteo, then Villas-Boas’ assistant, ended up taking.
But what a mistake it would be for Benitez to take the Chelsea job, for both Benitez himself and for Abramovich.
A man whose rumored links with the position have never been welcomed by the Chelsea fans would find himself with only half a season to bring the success that his new employer would require.
Given that a near-miracle is needed for Chelsea to advance in the Champions League—a domain Benitez is well-known in—Benitez’s success would be determined by four competitions: first, the Club World Cup Championship; then the Capital One Cup, the FA Cup and the Premier League.
If he doesn’t deliver, not only would that mean the end of a short, short stint at Stamford Bridge, but it would further ruin the reputation of someone who used to be known as one of Europe’s best young managers.
A lose-lose deal if there ever was one.
The term "caretaker manager" evokes plenty of negative associations.
At best a short-term chance, at worst a demeaning and condescending evaluation of a coach’s worth.
Roberto Di Matteo found this out to his peril, but it was never going to be as smooth-sailing a situation as his grin at signing a two-year “permanent” deal in the summer suggested it was.
With two cups won in the only two competitions he could have earned anything from, Di Matteo practically forced Abramovich into giving him a permanent deal—something that he was never comfortable doing.
Speaking of which, doesn’t this remind us of another Premier League club the previous season?
That’s right—Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, whose owners never considered him first-choice but had to bow down to popular demand because of a half-season flourish.
In the wake of Dalglish’s departure from Anfield in the summer, Benitez was linked with a return to Liverpool.
Now it looks as if he will be going to Chelsea instead.
He should know by now that a caretaker best stays a caretaker.
Perhaps one thing on Abramovich’s mind with regards to Benitez’s potential appointment is his relationship with Fernando Torres.
“His” in this case applicable to both Abramovich and Benitez.
Torres is Chelsea’s resident £50-million problem, and a problem that Abramovich parachuted onto Chelsea.
Carlo Ancelotti had to deal with him, Andre Villas-Boas had to deal with him, and Roberto Di Matteo had to deal with him.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Torres’ spectacular failings since leaving Liverpool have led to the back-to-back sackings of three managers.
Rafa Benitez, on the other hand, oversaw Fernando Torres in his prime (though it must be said that that came in an era where the peerless Steven Gerrard was also in his prime), and for that reason Benitez must be a very appealing option.
Oh, what if Torres had never signed for Chelsea and Ancelotti was free to choose his own option up front…
What if, indeed.
And what if Didier Drogba, that man whose shadow Torres must be deathly afraid of, comes sashaying back into the halls of Stamford Bridge?
Apparently, according to the Guardian, this could well become reality.
If that’s the case, not only does Torres have a huge problem, but his next manager does as well. And not only does his next manager have a huge problem, but Roman Abramovich as well.
Because amidst a general theme of moving the club forward—an assignment tasked to Villas-Boas who took to it a bit too hastily in hindsight and to Di Matteo who put the first steps in place—a hankering for a former club legend would ruin the good progress on this front.
With the remaining old guard—Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole—being gradually phased out, Didier Drogba, who delivered the key moments of Chelsea’s Champions League-winning campaign but in truth was a visibly fading force, would be a step backward.
And for Roman Abramovich, the owner who is never satisfied with moving forward slowly, that would just not do at all.
But then Abramovich has never been one to listen to public opinion, and he will argue, if he ever needed to, that it has worked for him.