Today, the news broke that Chelsea had parted ways with manager Roberto Di Matteo. The timing may be somewhat of a surprise but it wasn’t entirely unexpected, this is of course the 7th manager, yes 7th! Manager to be fired by Roman Abramovich. This doesn’t include the interim role of Guus Hiddink as he was never a permanent manager. Nevertheless this is a club that are now known to force a manager to work the proverbial ‘plank’ as soon as a bad run of form occurs. It is the price you pay to be employed by someone like Abramovich, the expectancy is unlike most clubs.
Therefore, it is not out of the blue to see Roberto Di Matteo sacked following a run of no wins in four games in the league and the likelihood of being the first Champions League winners to exit in the group stages following the defeat in Turin to Juventus. There is however a sense that the board and owner were waiting for any reason to sack Di Matteo, after all he wasn’t expected to win the Champions League. His success meant that it was impossible to replace him and that he deserved his chance in the hot seat but that wasn’t Abramovich’s plan when he fired Villas-Boas in March last season, I don’t think he ever imagined the possibility the team would win the tournament from the precarious position they found themselves in facing a 3-1 deficit to Napoli in the last 16. It was due to this why I felt at the start of the season that Di Matteo should have refused the job offer, left on a high, much like one Didier Drogba. There was nowhere to go but down, into the assembly line of the managerial merry go round that encircles the position at Stamford Bridge.
The success of last season was, at least in style, not going to be replicated. Di Matteo had to change the philosophy the club was built on during the other years of the Abramovich Era. It was going to be a transition and a difficult task to stay on course for the expectations the club has every season, but the quality of players at Di Matteo’s disposable following the arrivals of Hazard and Oscar in the summer meant the club possessed arguably the strongest starting XI in the league, there was hope for him. The issue was going to be one of depth and Di Matteo’s mismanaging of his players was the first mistake. Selling Raul Meireles and letting Michael Essien go on loan left Chelsea with four central midfielders and with Lampard injured, that dropped the tally to three. Whilst his decision to let Lukaku out on loan meant the burden on Fernando Torres was likely to be and inevitably has been unbearable, although this was questionably a board decision to try and make Torres feel like he was the ‘One’.
To my surprise, the start to the season was more impressive than I imagined. Di Matteo, took the gamble of playing all three playmakers in one side and this was in my opinion the only way to play given the players who had come and gone during the transfer window. A run of 8 games unbeaten seemed to set the foundation for the season, but shaky performances in Europe loomed over like a dark shadow on the bright start. A controversial loss to Manchester United and two draws to Swansea and Liverpool caused the media to awaken from their slumber and question his future.
Di Matteo’s grave error I believe came when the lineup for the West Brom game was announced. There were those advocating the resting of certain players with the Champions League trip to Juventus in mind. I’d usually not have many issues with the thinking behind that, but the club needed a win. It had gone three games without one in the league and momentum is crucial when entering a game of that magnitude. It isn’t the first time a game against West Brom has proved crucial in the sacking of a manager (AVB). The subsequent loss, made it in my view and what ultimately came to fruition a “Must not lose” game against Juventus. Unfortunate due to the nature of the first two goals, the 3-0 loss all but condemns the side to a Europa League birth… Given the fact that Juventus and Shakhtar need to play out a draw for both sides to guarantee progress into the knockout stages, whilst it isn’t out of the question fortune once again favours Chelsea in this competition. I think it is the fact Di Matteo put all his eggs in one basket to try and avoid a loss to Juventus, compromising his start to the league that was the deciding factor.
It of course follows a history of managerial departures as mentioned at the start, however it is worth noting that this “hire and fire” approach has been the bedrock of Chelsea’s success. After all Di Matteo was the beneficiary of this only eight months ago. Abramovich is a man with little patience, especially if you weren’t part of the plan to begin with. It is arguably why he stuck with Villas-Boas for so long, he was Abramovich’s man, his choice. This same theory is a plausible reason as to why Torres is still at the club and strengthens the likelihood of Rafael Benitez (I don’t want him to takeover as much as the next person) becoming the interim manager to get the best out of the player he brought to England. The ultimate prize is however as many believe ‘Pep’ Guardiola but that seems a summer acquisition along with a star, in-form, striker. Abramovich won’t leave a stone unturned in his aim to help out HIS next permanent choice as manager. For the remainder of the season it is crucial to get behind the manager, whoever that may be. The players need the support of the fans and they need to know the fans support the manager otherwise this quite frankly will be a season of continuous decline.
Now to bid Di Matteo the best of luck with regard to his future and to thank him for his role in the most successful night in the club’s history. A legend at the club as a player and manager, however brief. He in the end was never going to be the man to oversee Chelsea’s transition into this new style of play. The board, justified or not had been waiting for a moment like this. It is however not a reason to rebel against Roman Abramovich. The success of recent times is down to one man, one Russian billionaire and without him we wouldn’t be able to chant up and down the country
“Champions of Europe, we know what we are…”