Robert Oh Dear Matteo: The Story of a Doomed ManPosted: November 22, 2012
As Brian Clough once said, “Good managers make good sides; I’ve never heard of a side making a manager”. Ultimately, this was Roberto di Matteo’s undoing. Despite almost £80,000,000 having been spent since he took over, he could not disguise his flaws and limitations as a manager. He was never long for the job. Originally appointed as interim following the sacking of André Villas-Boas, it was clear to see from the first four-month contract he was given that he was in no way Roman Abramovich’s choice, but after their two cup triumphs in May, the Russian had little choice but to give him a permanent deal.
In some ways it could be argued that the Chelsea owner may even have preferred not to win the Champions League with the Italian in charge. It was the trophy he has coveted most since purchasing the club in 2003 and better managers than he have been dismissed for their failures to win it. Coupled with this is Abramovich’s desire to see his sides play ‘attractive’ football. Di Matteo, like so many before him, delivered on one count, but failed with the other.
Disingenuous though it is to say of a manager who won the Champions League and the FA Cup in one season, Di Matteo was not up to the job. Under his leadership, they were stunningly similar to the Chelsea of Luiz Felipe Scolari; imbalanced, lacking in midfield strength and managed by someone who did not know how to fix things when they went awry. Both have the ingredients for very good team and both sides started their respective seasons very well but did not know how to act when the plans that usually served them well were not working. At the start of the season they were still on a high from having won the two cups in May and ploughed forth like a team who believed in its own invincibility. As soon as the proverbial bubble burst in their home loss to Manchester United – their first of the season – they became aware of their own mortality and panicked.
To start a season well and then be adversely affected by a loss is far from alien to even the best of teams, but Di Matteo, with his lack of experience, control and ability, seemed totally unable to then bring them back to their pre-loss form. Admittedly that is based on just 5 games since said loss, but there was always an inevitability about his Chelsea falling apart, it was just a matter of time.
The wait was a strange one. At almost every turn last season it looked as though it would be coming to its end but it just never did. Even so early in his time as Chelsea manager, the Champions League second leg at home to Napoli could have been it, but through pure force of Didier Drogba, it was not. This became a running theme of his time. It could have been either leg of the semi final against Barcelona, but a combination of Drogba, Victor Valdes, a truckload of Barcelona missed chances, a Lionel Messi missed penalty and luck meant otherwise. It could have been the FA Cup semi final against Tottenham, but through a combination of Drogba, a dodgy goal from Juan Mata and luck in facing Tottenham at a time when they barely needed a nudge to push them to self-implosion, it was not.
It was so very nearly the Champions League final against Bayern Munich. The Germans missed more easy chances than Fernando Torres in the last two years, again including a missed penalty in playing time, this time from Arjen Robben. Then two more from Ivica Olic and the normally so reliable Bastian Schweinsteiger in the shootout. They were saved again by a phenomenal Drogba header and luck. They attempted to play to their strengths and play defensively. Only they did it badly, and in doing so they gave their oppositions a stunning number of chances, almost all of which were squandered.
Although the fact remains that they won the Champions League, this had remarkably little to do with the manager. When the summer arrived he had a huge amount of money to spend. There were huge flaws in his squad. Namely: his defensive midfielders, who consisted of an unconvincing Oriol Romeu, a physically shot Michael Essien and a really-not-all-that-good Jon Obi Mikel; his spectacularly profligate strikeforce of Torres and Daniel Sturridge and the need for another creative outlet. He chose to address the latter flaw three times and signed Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Oscar, for a combined £66,000,000. Then Victor Moses, who addressed none of the team’s weaknesses, except perhaps their homegrown quota and Cesar Azpilicueta who, in fairness, does now give them the option to play with a natural right back and move Branislav Ivanovic back into the centre of the defence, where he is more comfortable.
Oscar and Hazard have both become key players for them very quickly, but did they really need both more than they needed one defensive midfielder? Probably not. Though it is not as if he did not have the money for both. He totally ignored arguably Chelsea’s biggest problem in arguably the most important position in a team. Negligence and poor management on Di Matteo’s part; a decision that was sure to cost him in due time.
Roman Abramovich has been heavily criticised by many and with some justification. Di Matteo was the eighth manager to have worked under him since his 2003 takeover and the seventh to be sacked – Guus Hiddink being the only exception. They have spent £86,000,000 hiring and firing managers, but there is a legitimate argument that only two of those calls were mistakes: José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. In the name of getting the best from the team he has, Chelsea do need a better manager than Di Matteo, however harsh it is on the man who got them the Champions League the owner so craved.
Much to the chagrin of both Chelsea and Liverpool fans, Abramovich has made Rafael Benítez the interim manager until the end of the season (with an option to extend that by another 12 months), seemingly with the hope of getting Pep Guardiola to take over when his sabbatical ends in the summer. Benítez is not the genius many Liverpool fans would have you believe he is, nor is he the inept charlatan many a United fan would claim; he is a very good manager, but he may struggle with fitting this Chelsea team around the more pragmatic, heavy-pressing philosophy his previous sides have followed.
In the 2008/09 season at Liverpool, in which he came so close to winning the title, the whole system played to the focal point that was Torres, while getting the best from those around him. He has the players to fit his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation (which they have been playing all season) but may be lacking in the personnel to make it fit with his aforementioned style. And if Roman Abramovich has hired him to get the best from the painfully past-his-best Fernando Torres, the extension option in his contract will definitely go unused.
Thank you to @LimparHalfway for the headline. And if you’re on the Twitter, follow him.