KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
— MUNICH: One element of the Chelsea soap opera remained a mystery, hanging over for the next series, in the wake of the night of Munich magic: Where will Roberto Di Matteo be at the start of next season?
Three months ago Andre Villas-Boas’s assistant – rescued last summer from his West Bromwich hangover – was handed the role of caretaker. His charge from owner Roman Abramovich was to steady a ship listing badly in all competitions. He did so to such effect that Chelsea ended term with the FA Cup and the greatest prize in European clubn football.
But, in the wake of Champions League glory in Munich, Di Matteo would have needed to glance only as far as the shattered Bayern camp for evidence that he should make the most of his moment. Back in 1998 Bayern’s coach Jupp Heynckes guided Real Madrid to their first Champions Cup in 32 years but was then dismissed because his president had other ideas about the best way forward.
Hence Di Matteo’s continued insistence, after the events of Saturday night, that football’s perpetual licence to surprise meant he was thinking no further than the flight home.
Di Matteo said: “Football is sometime unpredictable and crazy. I don’t think anyone would have predicted what has happened in these last three months. To finish like this is an incredible achievement by this team.
“It feels brilliant. You think about the way you want it at home when you see other people winning it. The players have worked so hard for many, many years to achieve this objective. Four years ago they had a very painful experience and tonight we are on the other end of it.
“The heart and passion that these players have shown in this competition especially have been immense: to be able to equalise just before the end to go into extra time was a good feeling. Our preparation this week has been very difficult with four players suspended and two defenders out for two or three weeks and another picking an injury last Sunday so it wasn’t an ideal situation for a Champions League Final but the desire and motivation of these players has shone through again tonight.”
Asked whether he felt capable of taking over the managerial mantle, he said: “Whatever the club decides I will respect. What I am capable of right now is going on holiday after this because I need one desperately. It’s been a challenging three months. What we discuss with The Boss we don’t say publicly. I’ve been happy with the role I’ve been given and whatever the future holds for me I will accept.
“I don’t know what the future is going to hold. We are very happy right now to have made history for this club. The club went very close four years ago but it’s a difficult competition to win and you have to take your chance when it comes. Certainly this will make a huge difference for the future of our club. We always said it was crucial to be in the Champions League so it’s a double whammy in a positive sense.
“AVB deserves credit too because he started last summer with this team and built a foundation for it and I’m grateful to him that he called me in to work for him. It was a fantastic result.”
Di Matteo was non-commital similarly on the future of Didier Drogba who is out of contract this summer, saying: “That is a conversation that the club will have with the player. He’s been a fantastic servant over the last eight years and brought a lot of success but we prefer to talk about the group and the team and it’s been a great team effort tonight and before. Think back to Ashley Cole’s save on the goal-line against Napoli.”
Di Matteo had no view to offer on Totenham’s relegation to the Europa League, saying: “The winners should obviously have an automatic qualification for the next year so I think that’s right. Whether it’s unfair on another club is not for me to judge. Harry Redknapp has done an extremeley good job for Tottenham and now we are just pleased for ourselves.
“Nobody would have favoured us but we managed to do it and we are happy for ourselves. We had four suspended players and two players out injured so it was a very difficult week to prepare for a Champions League Final so we had to get the best out of the group of players we had.”
That included selecting reserve leftback Ryan Bertrand on the left side of midfield to try to help contain Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm.
Di Matteo did not consider this a gamble, explaining: “I see all these players working on a daily basis in training and and I’ve seen Ryan develop over the years. We had very limited options and I tried different options during the week and that looked the best for us for the balance and the undestanding the two players on the left flank had so it was a natural decision with players we had available.
“But Ashley Cole was immense and also Frank Lampard and Petr Cech. To pull off this victory needed a big team effort.
” It’s a historic moment for our football club.”
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