Roman Abramovich and the hierarchy at Chelsea have taken the dramatic decision to sack Roberto DiMatteo, six months after winning the Champions league and FA Cup. DiMatteo’s dismissal comes in the aftermath of a disastrous 3-0 loss in Turin to Juventus last night when an inferior performance and humiliating defeat leaves Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for the knockout rounds of the Champions League hanging by a thread. Having won it in May for the first time in the club’s history, the defending champions now need to win against Nordsjelland and hope that Juventus don’t defeat Shakhtar in the final group match in two weeks time. Chelsea’s form in the Premier League has dipped as well which has seen them slide down from the 1st to 3rd, four points behind champions Manchester City after initially starting well under DiMatteo, winning their first three matches of the new campaign. They haven’t won a Premeir League match in a month since running out 4-2 winners against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on 20th October. In that time, DiMatteo had seen his players slip to first home defeat to Manchester United since 2002, draw with Liverpool and lose at West Brom last weekend. The defeat to Juventus last night where he had taken the bold decision not play Fernando Torres ultimately proved as the final nail in his career at Chelsea, completing an abysmal month for a club of such calibre and quality.
Di Matteo was in charge for just eight months (262 days), but in that time managed the team to unprecedented European glory and FA Cup success. The “special one” Mourinho was a brilliant manager at Chelsea, but not even he could deliver the one trophy Abramovich craved; the Champions League. Futhermore, a string of a high-profile managerial recruitments including Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and André Villas-Boas failed to bring the coveted European prize back to Stamford Bridge. A “special one” who had just won the Champions League with Porto, a World Cup winning manager and a manager widely regarded as the brightest star in the realm of young coaches all failed to satisfy the lofty expectations of Abramovich of Chelsea in Europe. They reached the semi-finals three times under Mourinho while Avram Grant guided them to a runners-up position to Manchester United in 2008. However, it was interim manager Roberto DiMatteo who triumphed in the most prestigious club competition in the world game, defeating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the process. So why has Abramovich sacked DiMatteo? Is it justified or madness?
It is clear that Roberto DiMatteo was not the man Roman Abramovich had envisaged to transform Chelsea into the devastating force in European football who swept through teams with panache and attacking fluidity, racking up points and goals effortlessly along the way. Pep Guardiola has done just that with Barcelona. Unheralded and inexperienced when he took the helm at the Nou Camp in June 2008. In his first season, he won the treble of LaLiga, Copa Del Rey and Champions League and thus became the youngest Champions League winning manager in history. He went on to win the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup the following season and continued his reign of supremacy until he quit and commenced a year sabbatical in May 2012. Fourteen trophies in four years plus individual distinctions including the Gold Medal awarded by the Catalan Parliament, the highest honour and in January 2012, received the FIFA World Coach of the Year. Surely this is the man Abramovich wants. Somebody with a coherent and effective footballing philosophy, who implements it with skill and concentration, work ethic and determination. Building up a rapport with the players that is reflected in their adoration for him and how they represent his vision out on the pitch, annihilating teams with a strict strategy of passing that decimates even the most meticulously set-up defensive systems.
But perhaps he won’t get him. If Guardiola were to be appointed, he would be the ninth Chelsea manager in nine years. A remarkable track record of managers who have tried and ultimately failed in their quest to establish a healthy working relationship with the Russian oligarch which implies that the man simply cannot be satisfied. Mourinho swept through his first couple of seasons bagging two Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006 by twelve and eight points respectively whilst playing a style of football which dominated teams in a way that they eventually wilted and collapsed in the face of unanswerable Chelsea superiority. However, in his fourth season in charge, results began to deteriorate as did Mourinho’s relationship with Abramovich and following a poor 1-1 draw with Rosenborg at home in the Champions League, Mourinho was relieved of his duties.
Similarly, Carlo Ancelotti was installed as the next puppet in the Abramovich theatre of evil before the 2009/2010 season begun. In his first season in charge, Ancelotti won the Premier League back off Manchester United, who had won it three years, running whilst scoring a staggering 103 goals; a Premier League record that still stands. Alas, it was not sufficient proof for Roman that Ancelotti was the right man to continue to oversee Chelsea’s quest for European glory. Ancelotti was sacked after failing to impress during his second season, marking the fifth manager to be fired under Abramovich in eight years, following Ranieri, Mourinho, Grant and Scolari into the abyss of post-Chelsea managerial life. The dismissal has proven difficult for some to take. Ranieri has won nothing despite acquiring a number of lucrative positions including Valencia, Roma and Inter Milan. He currently manages AS Monaco in the second tier of French football whereas Luiz Felipe Scolari briefly pursued a career as a Gene Hackman look-a-like before taking up the reins at FC Bunyodkor in Uzbekistan and undergoing an uninspired second stint at Brazilian outfit Palmerias. Last but not least, Avram Grant has taken his healthy severance package from Chelsea to the brothels of London, Portsmouth and Belgrade as he stumbled into the managers office at West Ham, Portsmouth and Partizan Belgrade during which time both Portsmouth and West Ham were relegated after dismal campaigns and his tenure at Belgrade last all of three months.
So Abramovich’s axe-wielding, trigger-happy way of operating a football club has left more than his fair share of managers whimpering out of Stamford Bridge seeking new employment, so why would anyone want to manage under this ruthless owner knowing that their job is never truly safe? Money. Of course, the vast majority of managers and players are driven by lucrative financial arrangements disguised as footballing prestige. Whoever the next manager is under Abramovich, it is certain he will receive a whopping transfer war chest to recruit the next stars of the Chelsea revolution. However, Guardiola as a main target would appear to contradict the transfer window indulging style of Chelsea’s directors as he preferred to build his formidable Barcelona side through a warm rapport, nourishing players like Messi and Iniesta into an almost father-son relationship which produced an unwavering loyalty to him. The egotistical and money-driven players employed by Chelsea would be difficult to manage, as Villas-Boas found when his reign was fraught with tense and fractured relationships with key players Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Fernando Torres and John Terry which led to his demise. Is Guardiola really the perfect fit for Chelsea? Roman Abramovich appears to believe so, but it remains to be seen if the Spaniard will even accept the advances of Chelsea.
With it being established that not even winning the Champions League will secure the long-term future of a Chelsea boss, prospective candidates leading the race to succeed DiMatteo namely Guardiola and Rafael Benitez will undoubtedly be acutely aware of the dangers that come with this poisoned chalice. Whoever picks up where DiMatteo left off will have a job on their hands to battle the two Manchester clubs to the Premier League title and retain the Champions League; a feat nobody has previously managed. The all to familiar tale of managerial casualties followed by a period of restoration and rebuilding under a new face goes on at Chelsea. Will they ever appoint a manager and give him the chance to see out a contract, to establish a commanding respect and authority at the club and to implement a vision of playing football that requires practice precision and patience long enough to impress the distinctively impatient man at the top? Not likely.
An announcement regarding the next manager of Chelsea will take place by midday tomorrow, reports indicate.
Chelsea’s next match is at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City at 4pm on Sunday.