With the dust settling over a three-nil defeat to Juventus in the Champions League, a game in which Chelsea had been thoroughly dominated, word started filtering through Twitter and other gossip channels that Roberto Di Matteo was a man under pressure. The word was that he might even face the sack, with several rumours jumping the gun and claiming his departure even prior to his exit the following day.
The Juventus defeat essentially meant that progression to the latter stages was taken out of Chelsea’s hands. If the Serie A champions are able to take a point or more against an already qualified Shakhtar Donetsk, then Chelsea are eliminated regardless of their result against Nordsjaelland. It’s certainly not been an enoyable campaign in a group from which they would expect to succeed, but is that failure enough for Roman Abramovich to sack his manager?
Six months ago, Di Matteo wore the broadest smile in football. Having been the understudy to Andre Villas Boas at the start of the season, he was thrust into the leading man role after Abramovich’s trigger finger got itchy two thirds of the way into the campaign. But he flourished in the limelight, bringing home an incredibly unlikely cup double, and finally giving Roman the prize that he cherished.
After an electric start to the season, delivering dashing football, with an attacking, fluid front line, Chelsea have faltered in November with no wins from their 3 Premier League games. As of writing, they haven’t played in their hugely difficult match against the champions, Man City. But they remain in touch with the leaders, 6 points off the lead with a game in hand. At present it’s still a very competitive and encouraging start to the season, especially from a team in transition to a new playing staff and style. So can the sacking be justified?
Most people would agree that Di Matteo has been very hard done by. He’s brought success against the odds to the club, and he’s hardly had any time at all to coach his style into the team. Abramovich has a famously low patience, and has now had nine different men serve under him as manager. Compared to a club such as Arsenal or Manchester Utd, the difference is night and day. We value loyalty a lot in football. Those two managerial stalwarts are constantly held up (alongside Moyes at Everton) as examples of how to run a club properly. Certainly in the case of Ferguson, he’s brought unbelievable success over his decades in charge and has been able to build several great teams in that time. With Wenger, the trophy cabinet has looked rather bare over the last few years, and the question is whether that longevity has now turned the club rather stale and unprogressive. Choosing when to sack a manager can be a very fine line.
It seems as though the intention is for new arrival Rafa Benitez to only serve as an interim coach with a view to bringing in Pep Guardiola once his sabbatical ends. Benitez obviously brings a lot of Premier League experience, and has an excellent cup record which bodes well for the Fifa Club World Cup later in the year. Indeed he has already won it in his short stint as manager of Inter. Given his record, the appointment makes a lot of sense, even though Di Matteo can rightly point to a similar and more recent cup success. Indeed, if the intention is to bring in Guardiola at the end of the season, why bother hiring an interim, when your previous ‘interim’ appointment was such a resounding success?
In spite of the incredulity of the press and public, Abramovich can rightly claim that his low tolerance for failure, and history or managerial change has brought success. That’s undeniable. A lot of that success may come in spite of the managerial change and have more to do with the depth of his pockets than making sound business decisions. But that sentence in itself is the key to the debate. To sack or not to sack is in one sense pointless to debate. Chelsea are owned by one man who funds its entire existence, and he will continue to make these decisions at his own whim. Roberto Di Matteo leaves with his head held high, and whoever becomes his permenant successor will have great fortune and great impatience cast down on them. That’s the job, and good luck to them.
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