Di Matteo - Interim to Genius?
The story of Roberto Di Matteo has a real sense of joy and drama about it. If you go back to the start of last season, how many Chelsea fans could have predicted that our former superstar player Roberto Di Matteo, would not only have lead us to Champions League and FA Cup glory, but he’d also secure the full time position of Head Coach at Chelsea by the following season?
When you watch the highlights of the Champions League Final back in Munich, the pure emotion on Robbie’s face when the final whistle went was heart warming and evident for all to see. Di Matteo was just another Chelsea fan who craved the grand prize of club football, and the relief on his face come the end was the same as any other true Blue. The constant pressure and media cloud hovering over Di Matteo and his backroom staff throughout his reign as interim boss had finally been lifted, he could now relax and celebrate the greatest achievement ever, by any Chelsea boss.
But Di Matteo wasn’t described as a ‘world-class’ manager, nor was he experienced in managing top-flight football. He’s still very young, and it feels like just yesterday that he was scoring that infamous long-range goal against Middlesbrough, that brought us home the FA Cup in 1997 after just 42 seconds.
Naturally Di Matteo silenced his critics, the doubters claimed he was too inexperienced, albeit he did have the passion and drive. For many, that was not enough.
After Andre-Villas-Boas was sacked, Di Matteo remained a true gentlemen and a pioneer of the game, stating that he was sad about Villas-Boas’ departure, but would strive to help Chelsea achieve their goals. And what high aims they were. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich craved the Champions League, this was clear for all to see. Robbie had to deliver this with an under-performing Chelsea squad, who had been visibly dented by various members of the old-guard not seeing eye to eye with the previous coach.
I remember watching Roberto Di Matteo play for Chelsea, he showed the same desire and passion as he shows as a coach, and he was just as noble back then. Di Matteo took part in the Chelsea resurrection during the 90s, and was a pivotal part of the team that finally bought success back to the Bridge.
Famously his career ended far too early during a heart breaking time of his life. Roberto battled for two years, after his severe triple leg fracture in 2000, but it was inevitable that he was forced to retire in 2002 at the young age of just 31. He continued to receive honours and rewards from the club, entering being named in Chelsea’s Greatest XI. He had become an indispensable part of the Blues’ history.
‘Legend’ is an extremely over-used word in football, but with his playing career and now his early success as manager, the word ‘legend’ doesn’t seem extravagant enough to describe Chelsea’s Roberto Di Matteo.
When he took over from Villas-Boas, nobody believed he would be the long term solution, most Chelsea fans doubted his abilities after mixed results whilst managing MK Dons and West Brom previously. But Di Matteo, as if it was magic, turned this morally low Chelsea squad on it’s head, winning vital games in the FA Cup, and of course the memorable victory over Napoli that gave us belief in the Champions League campaign.
The good form continued, and Di Matteo’s rotational tactics gave a new lease of life for players such as John Obi Mikel, who became the unsung hero for the latter stages of the season, especially his tireless performances in the Champions League. Roberto preferred a reserved style of play and played to his squad’s strengths, adapting Frank Lampard to a deeper role as he lost his pace slightly. This worked more than effectively when Chelsea needed to defend deep, and see out narrow matches against teams who were better than us in terms of overall quality.
Some people criticised Robbie for being too negative, but when you look at it, he was handed a deflated Chelsea squad, many of which showing signs of age, and containing many dead-wood players who would soon be booted out. So what Di Matteo did was not negative, it was sheer tactical brilliance. When you are up against teams like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, you have to admit that they will have all of the possession and will be much more attacking than you, and after all we have to look at it realistically, they have more quality than us. Di Matteo knew this and played to our strengths. Every one of those Chelsea players had the passion and desire to win, and Di Matteo would use that, he would squeeze every inch of that passion and energy out of all his players.
I believe that there was no other team on the planet that had the drive and determination, that this Chelsea side had last season. What Di Matteo did brilliantly was man-managing the players individually, built their confidence and made them believe. He worked on defending collectively as a unit on every part of the pitch. I mean, for god sake we even had Didier Drogba as a left-back at stages last season, that’s dedication. The way Chelsea defended and contained in many of the games last season, especially in the Champions League, was hugely admirable even if it did receive criticism. Any real football fan could see that in order for that Chelsea side to win the Champions League, we had to play like that, we had to play ‘the Chelsea way’
Roberto Di Matteo is a top man-manager, an excellent motivator and a tactical genius, in my opinion. He won the FA Cup and the Champions League in just half a season, what a magnificent achievement for him and his coaching staff.
It seems like I wasn’t to be alone with this opinion, as well as many other Chelsea supporters, when Roman Abramovich cooled all the rumours of your Pep Guardiola’s and Harry Redknapp’s, by offering Roberto Di Matteo a two-year contract to become permanent Chelsea manager.
Chelsea fans celebrated, they had their man, all his hard work paid off. He deserved this chance, he’s proved he has the skills to succeed, and I believe he will continue to do so. He’s done it against all the odds; he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. But I fully admire him and Assistant Coach Eddie Newton for their continued dignity throughout the whole time; they stuck to the task ahead and kept their feet on the ground.
This season will be different. Roberto Di Matteo will have the pleasure of an immensely strengthened Chelsea squad, featuring some of the hottest young talents in the world. Marko Marin, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard have already arrived in what looks to be a mouth watering attacking line up next season. Along with player of the season Juan Mata, and Euro 2012 Golden Boot Winner Fernando Torres, who is getting back to his best, Di Matteo will have the pick of the bunch.
With Chelsea also expected to bring in the likes of Luka Modric, Hulk and Maicon, then you can fully expect to see a completely different style of play for Robbie’s men this season. I will be interested to see what formation and style he goes for, he usually opts for 4-2-3-1, and I believe that is how it will stay with, using Frank Lampard in his adapted deeper role. One thing for sure is, he will have major selection headaches, but that can only be a good thing, strength in depth.
Abramovich longs for an attacking style of play, exciting, fast paced and explosive. I think this season he just might get his wish.
Roberto Di Matteo achieved the impossible last season, I believe the fans now need to show they’re patient, it won’t happen over night, but this will be an exciting transition for the club.