Di Matteo just another of Roman’s victims

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iol spt nov22 Abramovich AP Roman Abramovich pulls the strings at Chelsea, while the managers play along.

London – The rumours were circulating long before the confirmation of the deed. Pep Guardiola, Rafael Benitez, even Avram Grant. Let’s be honest, what does it matter?

Avram Grant, Bernie Grant, Eddie Grant, here’s a good one, why not give it to Russell Grant. At least he’d know when he was about to get sacked. I see a short, dark stranger with your P45, sunshine. Better avoid that meeting then.

Chelsea are a random club and for that reason random things happen.

There is a line in the film Withnail and I. Freezing and helpless at their borrowed cottage in the Lake District, the out-of-work actors appeal to a farmer. “We’ve gone on holiday by mistake,” Withnail says.

Chelsea are a bit like that. The owner, Roman Abramovich, behaves in an unpredictable manner and so unpredictable events occur. Things just befall Chelsea without any coherent narrative. They appoint the owner’s mate who has no qualification for the role; they follow him with a coach who won the World Cup.

They sack the man who swept the board at Porto; his assistant, who nearly got West Bromwich Albion relegated, takes the same group of players and wins the Champions League.

They sell their most influential player to China; they spend £50million on one who can’t get in the team. Mark Hughes is yet to win a Premier League game at Queens Park Rangers this season, Roberto Di Matteo held the Champions League trophy aloft six months ago. Guess who is first out the door?

Yet don’t say he didn’t warn you. Abramovich never wanted Di Matteo to be his manager, and he made that plain all along. A regular feature of Chelsea’s progress to the Champions League final in Munich was a managerial press conference in which Di Matteo was asked, repeatedly, when he was going to be given the job full time. He did not once entertain the question, wonder aloud, or encourage speculation.

He knew that to do this, to be seen angling for the job, would not go down well with the owner. Abramovich says nothing, so Di Matteo aped him and played dumb, too. Then he won the FA Cup. Still there was silence. Then the Champions League. Tumbleweed.

Meanwhile, the wider world, fans, media, casual seekers of justice, howled in disbelief that Di Matteo was not being rewarded for his achievements. Yet now we know. Abramovich watchers could have told Di Matteo the truth: he’s just not that into you. Only when all other options were exhausted and Guardiola had made it absolutely clear that he was going to take a year out to recharge his batteries, did Abramovich go against his better instincts and give the man who won the European Cup the job. No doubt he felt a right soft touch in doing so.

And no doubt, lately, a few have been reminded of his previous reservations; just as they were over Luiz Felipe Scolari, another mid-season departure. The life expectancy of a Chelsea manager is short; the life expectancy of a Chelsea manager who does not have the complete faith of the owner from the start is roughly that of a Christmas turkey.

England batsman Kevin Pietersen was among the social media passers-by expressing his surprise on Wednesday. Why?

England’s winter cricket tours are frequently interrupted by Chelsea sacking the manager. Scolari (West Indies, 2009), Andre Villas-Boas (between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, 2011) and now Di Matteo (India, 2012). A bullet for the Chelsea boss is almost as predictable as a middle-order collapse on the sub-continent. And often as logical. Di Matteo went, like most Chelsea managers, because he was not getting the best out of his players. Players, of course, who he didn’t buy.

Throughout the summer, when Di Matteo waited for the puff of white smoke that would confirm that, yes, he was next in line to get a substantial pay-off for being sacked at Stamford Bridge, Abramovich continued to rebuild his squad.

So these were not Di Matteo’s signings. He merely got to marshal them to the best of his ability until the man responsible grew tired of his floundering. Even the mighty Jose Mourinho, when complimented on his insight in signing Petr Cech, admitted to being merely a bystander in the transfer market. He recommended Cech to his new employers, he said, only to be told he had already signed.

So David Luiz is no John Terry. Whose fault is that? Abramovich, not any coach, drove Benfica mad for Luiz before the deal was done. No manager could pay £50m for one player, as Chelsea did for Fernando Torres. That decision comes from the very top. The role of the manager is simply to be the scapegoat in the event of disaster.

Torres has now seen off three bosses and one cannot help but think that the emergence of Benitez as Abramovich’s latest fancy is a final attempt to justify his investment, and his judgment.

Now here’s the funny thing. In the time Abramovich has been at Chelsea, the club have had eight managers. Manchester United, obviously, have had one. And in that time United, the most convincing argument for patience and loyalty there has been in English football, have won nine trophies (one Champions League, four Premier League, three League Cup, one FA Cup). But Chelsea have won 10 (one Champions League, three Premier League, four FA Cup, two League Cup). So random has accrued more than continuity.

Indeed, in United’s single Champions League win, they played Chelsea, who lost on a penalty shoot-out having been marginally the better side. So, a method in the madness? Of course not. Sir Alex Ferguson spent as many seasons struggling at Old Trafford as Di Matteo has been given weeks since Chelsea’s form collapsed.

Abramovich’s success as an owner is just further evidence of the overwhelming influence of money: throw enough cash at a problem in football and however crass the executive behaviour, chances are results will come your way eventually. Abramovich’s actions defy convention and therefore conventional analysis.

These constant rounds of hirings and firings shouldn’t work. Often they don’t. But given Chelsea’s level of investment, sometimes they will.

So it really doesn’t matter who manages Chelsea, because the club is run by one man who you will never see on the touchline. Rafa Benitez, Rafa Nadal, Rafael Scheidt, the big Brazilian defender signed by John Barnes at Celtic, the names, the personalities are interchangeable. It’s his money, so let him play his game.

Whether Abramovich keeps Benitez, whether he lures Guardiola, or whether he just employs Scheidt, it usually ends the same way regardless. – Daily Mail


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