Yesterday Chelsea announced that Roberto di Matteo will be the club’s next full-time manager, three weeks after the former Blues midfielder guided them to glory in the Champions League.
The Italian also helped to secure the FA Cup in his almost perfect three-month job application last summer – but now he has been handed the task that the eight managers who have gone before him failed to achieve; deliver long-term success both at home and in Europe.
Previously, former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola had been linked with the role and was said to be causing some friction behind the scenes, with owner Roman Abramovich keen on landing the former Barca midfielder next year, once he has finished with his sabbatical from the game.
That led to rumours Di Matteo would only be offered a year-long deal until Guardiola became available, with the Italian effectively keeping the seat warm for when Chelsea and Abramovich’s main target became available.
That of course leads to some questions about Di Matteo’s long-term future at the club. He has been handed a two-year deal at Stamford Bridge – not the one year contract Chelsea wanted him to take but equally not the lengthy contract he would have liked.
What is there to stop Abramovich getting rid of the man who delivered European success at the end of next season when Guardiola becomes available? He has shown in the past that financially he has no qualms about getting rid of a manager – the Russian paid out over £40 million to get rid of Carlo Ancelotti and bring in Andre Villas-Boas last year before promptly sacking the former Porto boss.
Football reasons haven’t exactly stopped him in the past either. It seems that despite doubling the length of the contract they were willing to offer Di Matteo, Chelsea and Abramovich have still hedged their bets and are still in a position to go after Guardiola if they feel the need to next summer.
Of course they will have little choice but to bow to fan and media pressure if Di Matteo repeats his achievements of last season. Chelsea tasted just three defeats in 21 games under Di Matteo after he took over from Villas-Boas while he was credited by the players themselves for rebuilding the team-spirit that had been torn to shreds under the former Porto coach.
Of course his trouble this time round is to amalgamate the players that delivered Chelsea to success last season with the new arrivals, of which there should be plenty more before the new season begins.
Having shown loyalty to the old guard, the backbone of his squad which stood so firmly against Barcelona and Bayern Munich he will have to slowly remove them one by one; Kevin De Bruyne comes in and will be gunning in for a start but he will have to wait his turn; Eden Hazard, Marko Marin, Daniel Sturridge and Ramires all occupy similar territory and will want game time.
Equally Di Matteo is untested at the very top beyond his three month stint last season, and there were some doubts about how he would handle the role on a full-time basis as oppossed to coming in and galvinising a team as the clock ticked down– a spell with West Brom was all he had to show for himself in the Premier League previously.
But for all the doubts that surround Di Matteo’s appointment there can be little doubt that he will give his all to the role, and has evidently done enough to convince Chelsea’s hierarchy that he can be entrusted with the richly-assembled squad that is currently being added to at great speed. In the next few weeks, an extra £40 million in value may be added to the Chelsea squad with the arrival of Porto striker Hulk.
The feeling that surrounded Stamford Bridge after victory in the Champions League final was that this was a moment to pounce upon, an opening that led towards continued European dominance. Abramovich, for his part has supplied the cash and is bringing in the players, and now he is entrusting all that to Di Matteo. Next season should be interesting.