Tell fate to take a hike, Roman, and just give Di Matteo the job
21:27 GMT, 20 May 2012
To begin with, stuff destiny. If it was just about fate, or your name being on the cup, or blue angels and all the other supernatural guff that has accompanied Chelsea through Europe this season, then anybody could have been Chelsea’s manager in Munich on Saturday. Even Andre Villas-Boas.
Why has Roman Abramovich spent so much time, and money, hiring and firing managers, if all it needed was for the planets to align and Chelsea would win the Champions League Contrary to some highly bizarre notions, it was not their turn; it is never anybody’s turn.
There are colourful narratives, invariably en route to a final, and we imbue them with mystical force, as if whatever Chelsea did, Michel Platini would be handing them a trophy on May 19. To think that, however, entirely undervalues the contribution of one man: Roberto Di Matteo.
Here to stay Roberto Di Matteo must wait to hear if he is to be kept on as Chelsea boss
Everyone was talking destiny after the game. Even Gary Neville, the arch realist, was claiming it was meant to be. What about Bayern, then What about Dahoam Finale Uli Hoeness, the president, has spent several years’ frantic politicking to deliver the dream of Germany’s greatest club playing for the greatest prize in club football in Bavaria before the Rot-Weiss Inferno. Doesn’t that have an air of destiny about it, too
Did two destinies collide and Chelsea’s force was stronger What does that make Di Matteo Yoda He is not as quote-worthy as the Jedi master, no doubt of that. Di Matteo has spent his months as Chelsea’s interim manager giving so little away that ranks of journalists now know what it is like to play against one of his teams: all that possession and probing, but it still gets you nowhere. Di Matteo would not even say that he wanted the job on Saturday night. So in place of insight is this outpouring of superstition. Destiny Pah.
So does Di Matteo want the job Of course he wants the job. That’s why he keeps quiet. He knows Abramovich does not care for idle chatter. The owner gives nothing away, so neither does Di Matteo.
Decision time: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has finally got his his hands on the Champions League
He does not hang himself with foolish remarks, and, by doing so, all Abramovich has to work with are his results. And what results. So magnificent was Chelsea’s achievement that it is almost forgotten that Di Matteo has already landed the FA Cup. If not the Double — which Carlo Ancelotti achieved straight off the bat — he has delivered a double, and a hugely impressive one. Di Matteo did not get lucky in Munich; he got organised, got clever, got brave and got exceptional performances from players who looked flat and demotivated until he took charge.
Saving a penalty isn’t luck if a man has studied every one Bayern have taken since 2007, as Petr Cech did; and becoming champions of Europe isn’t luck if a manager is bold enough to show faith in a 22-year-old left back, Ryan Bertrand, who hasn’t played a minute of European football until the 2012 Champions League final.
Nor is it luck to have looked the 50million striker in the eye and told him that, in a team of 11, he is not among the first five penalty takers. Can you imagine the consequence if Fer-nando Torres had been denied his moment from 12 yards, and Chelsea had lost, Di Matteo having preferred five others, including two defenders Avram Grant lasted roughly 24 hours after defeat on penalties by Manchester United in Moscow; Di Matteo might not have survived as long as that.
Rallying the troops: Di Matteo delivers a rousing speech to his players before extra time in Munich
It showed an incredible amount of steel and, as the result is all in football, proved the right call, too. We do not know whether Torres would have scored, but enough of Di Matteo’s selections did to beat the Germans on penalties in their own backyard. No further debate is necessary.
Chelsea paid 16m for John Mikel Obi — including 12m compensation to Manchester United — and few have ever been able to see why. Yet under Di Matteo, who, like his coach Eddie Newton, often played a holding role, he has thrived.
He was arguably Chelsea’s best player in Munich; quick feet, quick wits, moving the ball on with the wonderful combination of calm and urgency that set Claude Makelele apart. Di Matteo has turned Mikel into Makelele in a matter of months, just as he has turned Gary Cahill into the next John Terry, and David Luiz into a defender who no longer attracts guffaws.
This was not destined to happen. No higher force arrived to sprinkle fairy dust over Chelsea’s Cobham training facility. Ashley Cole is once more being talked of as the best left back in the world; in Villas-Boas’s final European game in charge — away to Napoli, a 3-1 defeat — Cole did not make the starting line-up. Right back Jose Bosingwa played in his place; he wasn’t performing as he has done under Di Matteo, either. Nobody was.
Kings of Europe: Chelsea celebrate their Champions League triumph in Munich
That is the cynical view. The older players resented Villas-Boas’s attempts to curb their power and did not perform for him; then Di Matteo came along and let them do as they pleased, and order was restored.
Yet what of the younger ones, in which Villas-Boas did have faith What of Luiz and Bosingwa and Mikel Their performances have improved hugely, too. So this isn’t about spite. Chelsea’s success is not a dressing-room attempt to prove Villas-Boas wrong; it is the difference between a manager who alienates and one who motivates.
The messages from family members shown to the players in the build-up to the game was another managerial masterstroke. Nobody goes out and collects hours of video footage, in secret, by luck. Di Matteo knew how to inspire his team —and the proof was in the performance. He was right again.
If Chelsea’s executive strategies were not so random there would not even be a doubt. Real Madrid won the European Cup in 1998 and sacked Jupp Heynckes, is the counter- argument, the alleged proof that there is a bigger picture than one triumph. Yes they did, and do you know why people remember it Because it was stupid.
Home comforts: Chelsea paraded the Champions League trophy in London on Sunday
They did not win the European Cup the next year, or La Liga, either. They then went out and spent an absolute fortune on the famous galacticos team, won the Champions League twice in three years — 2000 and 2002 —and have not been back to a final since. Madrid are not an example of how to run a football club. Given all their advantages, they underachieve.
Chelsea, under Di Matteo, have done the opposite. They were destined for nothing this season and he turned that round. He deserves the chance to take the club on, to play some games without his back to the wall — and the 5-1 FA Cup semi-final win over Tottenham, plus the semi-final monstering of Liverpool for 60 minutes suggests there is better to come.
He has captured hearts, minds and two trophies that looked beyond this team until he arrived. Tell fate to take a hike, Roman, and give the man the job.