Di Matteo – a victim of his own success?


Another day, another sacking down at the Bridge. Ruthless Russian Roman wielded his axe once again and likeable Italian Roberto Di Matteo was the latest to feel the force of its sharp and familiar blade, relieved of his duties as Chelsea boss, only eight months into a post which was offered to him for two years in June just gone.

Following Chelsea’s 3-0 submission to Italian side Juventus in the Champions League group stages last Tuesday, the Blues now find themselves having to rely on other results to progress to the next stage of a competition which they won on a balmy night in Munich only six months ago. Isn’t football a strange old game? Di Matteo picked up a group of players whose morale was on the floor following a confusing time under Andre Villas Boas and lead them to two cup triumphs – the FA Cup claimed only two weeks before Abramovich’s holiest of grails.

Sadly, a run of poor results in both league and cup (gasp – only two wins in eight) has seen yet another manager shown the door before he’s been given a chance to prove himself. It seems Di Matteo may have been a victim of his own success; I mean, he won the European Cup (miraculously) after being in charge for a matter of months. Maybe Roman believed that, as they’re the holders in this season’s competition, they have a God-given right to storm through the first round. A very tough prospect in itself but made more difficult with opposition such as Juventus and Shakhtar Donetsk  in their way. Opposition who have proved more than tricky in the fixtures played against Chelsea.

Football is never that simple – Man United won the competition in 1999 and then one year later found themselves unceremoniously dumped at the quarter final stage to Real Madrid. It’s so fiercely contested and with so many great sides involved, all with the same burning ambition to win it, it’s never simply a case of winning and successfully retaining it. Not even Barcelona managed that in recent times and we all know how good they are.

That said, we all know that it wasn’t just their shaky Champions League performances that have brought scrutiny – their recent results in the Premier League have also been patchy, their early season performances so full of zest and style, replaced by a careless and complacent Chelsea, as proven in games against Swansea and more recently against West Brom. Still, how much can you tell about a side by their November league placing? It’s still too early to judge how the table will shape up and, despite a blip, the Blues still sit third in the league. The club stated that they acted fast before results got worse – which is fine and good but not when you consider that this happens to every single boss who’s been in charge at the Bridge who has encountered a rocky patch. It’s almost like it could be written in the job description – six winless games and you’re out of the door. It’s surely no way to operate and makes you question whether the people higher up at the club are football men at all.

All of this and a man not too far away in the capital is still sitting on a job despite not having a Premier League win to his name this season (at the time of writing). Yes, I mean you, Mark Hughes. When you put it in that perspective it makes it seem all the more harsh. But had they planned it all along? Barely one day after the Italian’s exit, Spaniard Rafa Benitez stepped into the helm to take interim charge until the end of the season. The man surely has the tactical nous and knowledge of the division to do a reasonable job but this short-term fix is symptomatic of Abramovich’s reign at the club. Quick fixes are not the answer – the club requires stability, someone with a sharp mind and strong will to diminish player power and turn the club into one which people respect, not loathe.

The name on everybody’s lips is Pep Guardiola (come the end of this season). If you know what’s good for you, Pep, you’ll leave it well alone. A reputation and legacy he helped to build at Barcelona – at Chelsea it would take only months for that to be tarnished. Such is the nature of the club’s managerial employment policy.

Another ‘quiet’ season at Stamford Bridge rumbles on…

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