There’s never a quiet moment at Stanford Bridge. One minute Ashley Cole is shooting an intern, the next John Terry is in the middle of (yet another) scandal that has (once again) taken the England captaincy from him.
The last five years have been similarly enthralling, yet similarly damaging for the image of Chelsea. Roman Abramovic has employed five different managers, with experience ranging from World Cup glory with Brazil to double Champions League victories with AC Milan. They have been, and have gone, costing a whopping £66 million, a fee with which they could have made another Fernando Torres-esc signing (presuming, of course, that they would have wanted to repeat the process again).
Perhaps, therefore, the events of this season shouldn’t be taken with such shock by press and fans alike.
Abramovic just can’t make up his mind. First, it was an older, experienced and whilly manager with Champions League know how, which ended in a dark corridor in Goodison Park in mid- May.
Then it was the youthful face looking to bring in a new era. The Andre Vilas-Boas “era” lasted six months.
But what about now? Abramovic is rapidly running out of high profile managers to employ and dispose of. Could it be that the Russian switches his attention to a different calibre of manager altogether? Could Roberto Di Matteo be going through a job interview as public as that of Stuart Lancaster for the England Rugby Union job?
He may not be a flashy name, he may not have the experience of other managers that have taken the job. But he might just have what all of those managers lacked. The ability to galvanize the dressing room. Even Carlo Ancelotti, perhaps the best manager to move to London since the Jose Mourinho period of success, struggled with some of Chelsea’s dressing room characters, certainly the mass distribution of players in the 2010 transfer window did not help. Frank Lampard, so critical of Vilas-Boas, today praised Di Matteo’s approach since taking interim charge; “It was a case of getting confidence back in the team. Judging by the results, in majority, he’s done that.”
Although the Italian’s CV is certainly not as breathtaking as those before him, there is a great deal of encouragement to be taken from his managerial past. Taking West Brom to the Premier League is an, although minor baring in mind they were at the time a “yoyo club”, achievement. His achievements set the foundations for Roy Hodgson to take his place and make West Brom the success story they are today, lying 11 points above the relegation zone.
His sacking was, in my opinion, harsh. Yes, there were embarrassing 6-0 defeats to Chelsea and 3-0 defeats to Manchester City, but small clubs can not expect to get results against the bigger teams, it is results against the smaller teams that contribute to Premier League survival. It seemed that the fans, and players alike, were very happy with him in charge and the stability he brought them. This experience proves that he can manage in the Premier League and will have taught him a lot of, hard to take, lessons.
Regardless of success or failure at West Brom, it is the events of the next few weeks that will determine whether or not Abramovic sides with the Italian. The 4-1 victory at Napoli was one of the best nights that Stanford Bridge has witnessed since 2004, the sheer noise from the fans following Ivanovic’s goal tells you just how much it meant to them.
Should they overcome Benfica in the Quarter finals Chelsea fans may have some thoughts and hopes that their club might, just might, reach the Champions League final for the first time since that fateful night in 2008. Victories over Napoli and Benfica might not seem like the calibre of win that Chelsea fans have been used to other the past 8 years or so, but it these are two clubs that managed to, alongside other clubs in their respected clubs, humiliate the top two clubs in English football. The celebrations between the coach and players shows a unity that was lacking in the Andre Vilas-Boas era (if we can call it that).
There is potential for success in the FA Cup and they are still in the running for 4th spot in the Premier League. If they can go on a run of form and gain some momentum than they might be able to overtake a Tottenham side who appear to have lost a lot of their early season confidence, and Newcastle, who are currently level of points with Di Matteo’s side, have a relatively small squad by comparison, and will struggle to see out their season at the standards that they have set themselves. Certainly they should be aiming to attain 9 points from their next three games, against the likes of Aston Villa, Fulham and Wigan.
There is no doubting that the appointment would be risky. But is it any more risky then some of the other appointments made by Abramovic in the past 7 years? Debate-ably not. Chelsea need stability in management and someone who can both control the dressing room in the short term and bring through the youth in the long term. Roberto Di Matteo has 2 months to prove he can be that man.
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