Chelsea’s Champions League tie with Schalke 04 reopens Roberto Di Matteo’s story with the Blues; a novel which apparently still has a few chapters to fill.
Not many clubs around the world would sack their manager after just eight months in charge, with him having won two major trophies (including a maiden Champions League), never mind a manager who also made over 100 appearances and spent four years at the club as a player.
Di Matteo sacking
Welcome to the no compromise world of Roman Abramovich. The Russian billionaire is as quick to invite a manager to join the club as he is to show them the exit door. Now in his 11th year as owner, he has made 10 managerial changes, but Di Matteo’s was probably the most controversial.
Di Matteo was the initially appointed caretaker manager after Andre Villas Boas’s dismissal. He was able to not just save Chelsea’s sinking campaign, but salvage and surface with FA Cup and Champions League triumphs, using a very defensively organised side and players reaching the twilight of their careers.
Di Matteo successes
Those impressive accolades would give a manager at any other club in the world at least another twelve months at the helm and Chelsea fans were excited where the club could go under Di Matteo’s new era.
That summer they brought in Eden Hazard, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta among others, laying the foundations to the current side that has been so successful. Their league form started well, losing just one of their first nine games. Surely there was no danger?
Just a month later and Di Matteo was shown the door. No wins in the league and a 3-0 loss to Juventus in the Champions League forced the Russian billionaire to push the well-used panic button.
Abramovich’s logic was to sack the manager that just won the Champions League and bring in the ex-manager of a close rival who has had a series of spats with the club over the last few years, Rafael Benitez. Confused?
Football fans couldn’t quite believe that decision. Businessman the world over commended it.
If your business is failing and on the verge of bankruptcy, what do you do? Bring in someone with a wealth of experience who has a point to prove and will guarantee liquidation never becomes a realistic possibility, that's what.
It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past, a successful business never rests on its laurels and neither does a successful football club. Abramovich is the best example of an owner determined to run his football club like any other business, a notion that’s alien to most clubs in England and proven particularly unsuccessful in the case of Leeds United.
He looks at the club through a black and white lens. If Chelsea are winning he is smiling and laughing in his executive box, if Chelsea are losing he’ll sack the manager so he can start winning again.
Schalke are Di Matteo’s first venture into management since his departure from Stamford Bridge and although this is a very important Champions League tie, it's actually the most important game of his managerial career since that historic night in Munich two years ago.
He will be determined to prove Abramovich made a mistake. But as long as Chelsea remain successful will the Russian care? Not a bit. Will he ever change his methods? Never.