So, once again, the plot thickens. This morning Roman Abramovich made what was surely is harshest ever sacking as Chelsea owner. It wasn’t a logical decision, and it wasn’t at all fair to Roberto di Matteo, but when have we ever been fair or logical regarding managerial dismissals?
The simple fact of the matter is Abramovich clearly never wanted Roberto as his manager. The only problem was the Italian did absolutely everything perfectly. He won the FA Cup, the Champions League; he immediately integrated our new signings seamlessly and got us off to the best start in the history of the Premier League! He was also flawless in his handling of the media, representing the club with some class and integrity within the midst of some shaming controversies. But, one month later, after only one win in six, an excuse to sack him finally presented itself, and that was that.
Personally, I’m really not happy. In fact, the first time I read what had happened this morning I was actually drafting an article about the Juventus game in support of di Matteo. Yes our form of late has been dreadful, but it hasn’t been inexcusable in my opinion, given how this is supposed to be a transitional year, not to mention the quality of some of the teams we’ve faced and the terrible luck we had against Man Utd, Liverpool and West Brom, (We should’ve had at least another 4 points from those fixtures).
I was also a fan of the decisions RDM made for Juventus game in terms of selecting Azpilicueta in midfield to deal with Kwadwo Asamoah (it was hardly a coincidence the wing back assisted Vidal just minutes after Azpi was subbed). I think he was also right to finally drop Torres after the month he’s had and also to stick with Luiz at centre half, who unlike Torres, has been an important player for Chelsea in the past on the big occasion, and with games like yesterday’s against Juventus, you need to have faith that your best players will deliver, regardless of current form.
Anyway, whether he made the right or wrong decisions it doesn’t matter, he’s gone. And of course with another managerial sacking, out came pretty much journalist in Britain to label Abramovich with the same old adjectives, ‘brutal’, ‘ruthless’, ‘trigger-happy’, ‘short-sighted’, ‘impatient’ etc etc. I’m fed with it all to be honest. It’s time to accept once and for all that whilst the Russian is in charge, Chelsea will never have stability.
Abramovich plainly loves football and he loves Chelsea, I’m sure he also understands football a lot better than people give him credit for. But, he doesn’t love the sport the same way we do. Our love of Chelsea is based on emotional attachments to the players, the coaches, the physiotherapist… It’s also based on our pride of its traditions and past achievements. For Abramovich however, as Jonathon Liew explained in ‘The Telegraph’ today, Chelsea is his “window to the world” – his method of displaying his wealth and power. When people regard Chelsea he isn’t bothered that they see a fairly run, morally sound and principled football club, he only wants people to see the best players in the world playing the best football in the world, and that’s it. It doesn’t matter how much money or how many people need to be sacked if it’ll bring Chelsea closer to that goal in the short run.
Really in hindsight, I think the Russian should’ve stuck to his principles and released di Matteo in the summer, instead of perhaps for the first time showing some compassion for a fan favourite. It was almost as if this extra few months was like a ‘thank you’ gift for winning the Champions League – you have to wonder, would Avram Grant have received the same favour had John Terry scored that penalty in Moscow?
In all honesty though, concerns were fairly starting to arise over di Matteo’s tactics. This past month or so we have looked notably undisciplined and unorganized on the pitch – lacking leadership in defence or any real ideas going forward, despite the quality and individual form of the 5 players behind Torres. RDM talked from the beginning of the season about needing to find a balance and almost three months in, he didn’t even come close – the protection we’ve provided our back four all season has been inarguably sub-standard, although poor penalty box defending from Luiz and Cahill hasn’t helped.
From a man-management perspective, and also in terms of how he handled himself and united the squad, di Matteo was fantastic for Chelsea and he’ll always be remembered fondly. No doubt he’ll walk into another big job off the back of these 6 months. I’m sure he’ll become a great coach and he’ll win a few more trophies as well. The only ever issue I think was his tactical nous. Although, he always showed a lot of tactical common sense, he never repeatedly made the same mistake and the way he set the side up against Barca and Bayern in the UCL last year was absolutely perfect. In the end his only fault was not being some big-name tactical genius. In the eyes of the owner, he was never anything but an interim.
Which brings us to his replacement – Rafael Benitez has been named interim manager until the end of the season. Football’s crazy isn’t it? I know a lot of people are very unhappy about this, but I’m not. There’s no doubt in my mind Benitez is the best manager in the world currently unemployed and looking for work. His pedigree and CV is outstanding. His reputation as a tactician and disciplinarian fits the bill the perfectly; the fact he was willing to accept such a short term contract is an absolutely bizarre bonus – bizarre in the fact I’ve no idea what’s in it for him. He must know Abramovich will be looking to sign Pep Guardiola once again in the summer, regardless of how well he does.
I think it’s safe to say that this season we aren’t going to win the league or retain the Champions League. However I think it’s also safe to say with Benitez we should definitely finish top three; we should also become more organized, more solid at the back and just generally more comfortable and confident with this new system. I think we’re still in with a very good shout of winning a Cup or two or three also.
For those unconvinced, I’m telling you, Benitez is a very very good manager, at least give him a chance. There’s absolutely no sense hating the decision to hire him when in all likelihood, he will do a good job and even if he doesn’t, he’ll be gone in a few months anyway.
People can say what they want about Chelsea as a club – we might be rash, immoral, brutally impatient/shamelessly whimsical – but we sure as hell are never boring.
Thank you for everything Roberto di Matteo and good luck Rafa!