Although the sacking of Andre Villas Boas back in March wasn’t completely surprising, it’s fair to say the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo as interim manager certainly shocked a lot. Firstly, under a year before, a relegation-threatened West Brom side had sacked a beaten Di Matteo after a string of terrible results.
There were questions over his initial appointment as Villas-Boas’ assistant in the first place – quite rightly too considering he was a stranger to the role and still inexperienced at management. However, regardless of these facts, here he was taking over a disgruntled, beaten and clearly ageing Chelsea side. Fortunately for Chelsea fans and the Italian himself, Matteo battled against the odds and performed well.
Winning the FA Cup was of course a big achievement for Chelsea – but the Champions League success was the significant one; the single trophy that Ambramovich wanted in return for his millions of pounds investment. Chelsea, in a season that looked the least likely of all in the Ambramovich era to conjure up something fantastic, had won the Champions League. The difference between the mid-season blip and the succesfull finish? Rather obviously it appeared to be Di Matteo. But while his performance as interim manager was undeniably successful, it’s perfectly feasible to say that his appointment as full-time manager will end up being a bad move for Chelsea.
In the midst of the European Championships, the appointment of Di Matteo as full manager was, although not completely ignored, fairly overshadowed by the exciting events taking place in Poland and Ukraine. Before the hype of the Euros began, many big names were calling for Abramovich to appoint Matteo on a permanent basis after beating Bayern Munich on penalties in the Champions League Final. But the people doing so were forgetting one key point; away from the FA Cup and Champions League, Di Matteo’s win rate in the Premier League at the end of the season was terrible. In fact it was considerably lower than that of Andre Villas Boas.
Of course, many will say Chelsea were focusing on other ‘more important’ matches, as well as suffering from a long injury list – which is fair – but regardless of that fact there were matches that they lost which they should’ve won. People seem to forget that Chelsea finished out of the top four and if they hadn’t of won the Champions League then they wouldn’t be competing in it this upcoming season. I think Chelsea were taking the Premier League a lot more seriously under Di Matteo than many have assumed. Winning the Champions League was obviously no certainty and had the result gone the right way, then Chelsea wouldn’t be playing Champions League football this upcoming season.
But even away from his short spell in charge at Chelsea; league form and consistency have certainly been things that Di Matteo has struggled with. A win percentage of just under 62% at Chelsea is his highest out of all the managerial positions he’s taken up. During his time at MK Dons, Di Matteo only managed a win percentage of 50% despite the Dons aiming for promotion. Arguably his time at West Brom reflects worst on his managerial credentials, the Italian winning under half of his games and not impressing the board enough to keep his job for the rest of the season for fear of relegation.
But the most worrying thing about looking up the statistics around Di Matteo isn’t anything to do with win percentages – it’s to do with experience. The age and relative inexperience of Andre Villas Boas was a major talking point upon his arrival at Chelsea, and many feel it was a major factor in his sacking halfway through last season. But as is made obvious from his win percentages above, Di Matteo has only managed three teams and, remarkably given the deal made out of experience upon Boas’ arrival; he has considerably less managerial experience than the man he replaced. Within all the talk many seem to have forgotten that Di Matteo himself is actually only 42, just 10 years older than Villas Boas. If the lack of experience for the Portuguese man was such a big issue, then it’s likely to be an even bigger one for the Italian.
Of course Matteo has a huge advantage in that he’s considered a legend at Chelsea but his presence still comes across as extremely weak. Even during his short time at the end of last season we saw a few players, namely Fernando Torres, react badly towards their manager. The problem I fear that Chelsea will face is exactly the same one that saw Villas Boas crumble; there are too many egos in the dressing room and Di Matteo isn’t strong enough to handle it. I’d be surprised if I found somebody who genuinely believed that the Italian comes across as a strong character. Regardless of his 120 appearances for Chelsea, Di Matteo really doesn’t have the presence or ability to be able to deal with the problems that having such a strong armoury of players that Chelsea have.
I remember last summer Ashley Cole rather foolishly said “Everybody thinks there are egos at Chelsea,” just months before rumours of texts between teammates criticising their manager were reported in the press. The end of last season clearly saw the Italian manage this well but frankly, for all we know, the players could’ve simply been relieved that Villas Boas had gone. The departure of Didier Drogba this summer is a start to removing the solid armoury that’s capable of causing Chelsea to self-destruct, but many of the key players remain. If justice is done in the John Terry racism trial then maybe Matteo could be liberated from the various problems their captain brings.
The question I think everybody should ask themselves is “is his management style sustainable?” Perhaps short spells at both West Brom and MK Dons previously would suggest no. But it’s important to remember how different being a permanent and interim manager can be. Many a time we’ve seen successful interim managers gone on to fail and vice versa. With a new season comes a new attitude and different, more long-term focussed aims. The style of management will need to be different and I’m not sure Di Matteo is up to sustaining strong management for long. Instead of getting a team through the last few months of the season, he has a whole season to guide them through. With managers of the calibre of Jose Mourinho getting ruthlessly sacked when a few results and relationships don’t go the right way it’s hard to hold much hope for Di Matteo.
The easiest way to prove my point is by looking at the style of football they played through the last few months of the season. Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the Champions League are two perfect examples. Even the largest of Chelsea fans can admit that, across the three matches versus Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Chelsea were extremely lucky. There’s nothing wrong with riding your luck, it’s always needed if a team’s to be successful, but Chelsea took this motive to a whole new level. It’s almost like Chelsea just blagged their way through and you can’t see their defensive style getting them anyway in the Premier League if employed over the whole season. Their style wasn’t sustainable and, again, Di Matteo will have to show a whole different approach come August. The question remains whether he can do this successfully or not.
It’s possible that reading this you’ll think I’m suggesting Abramovich is wrong to have appointed Di Matteo on a permanent basis and you’re half right. I believe it’s right that Di Matteo has the job because it would seem unjust if he wasn’t even offered it after winning the Champions League and the FA Cup, but it’s just not going to work out. In appointing Di Matteo Chelsea are going to be stuck in a buffer zone – one I’m sure that when Abramovich has enough bad press around Di Matteo to sack him, he will. Di Matteo is more likely to lead Chelsea backwards than forwards but because of what he somehow, and I’m still not quite sure how, did he has to be given the chance. The fact Abramovich has given Di Matteo the chance to prove himself doesn’t mean he has full confidence that he’ll succeed, it just means that, for once, he’s done the right thing.