LONDON: Roberto Di Matteo has returned from his post-Champions League holiday in the Caribbean and United States to find out that he will be, after all, manager of Chelsea next season. But he is aware that he was not first choice as far as owner Roman Abramovich was concerned.
The Russian oligarch had hoped that a money-no-object offer would have persuaded Pep Guardiola to abandon his plan for a year’s sabbatical after coming out of Barcelona. Guardiola remained adamant that he wanted to recharge his batteries.
Hence Di Matteo may still be seen as interim manager at Chelsea. This will clearly have an effect on his relationship with the players, on his authority within the club, his relationship with the board and his influence – or lack of it – over the rebuilding and refreshing of the squad.
Chelsea’s recruitment department, headed by the technical director Michael Emenalo, is working independently of Di Matteo to reshape the squad. The European champions have signed Marko Marin as well as Belgian youngster Eden Hazard from Lille and still hope to bring in Brazil striker Hulk for around £38m from Porto.
Di Matteo achieved a minor miracle in taking over the team in midseason and securing the one prize above all else of which Abramovich had dreamed ever since he bought Chelsea nine years ago.
His personal challenge is to go on and reclaim the Premier League crown for the first time since 2010 and to do so with the attractive attacking football which is the antithesis of the disciplined negativity which defied Barcelona and Bayern.
Di Matteo, after Chelsea were rebuffed by Fabio Capello and Rafa Benitez, was promoted from assistant to interim manager in March when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked after less than a season in charge.
The transformation was notable. While Chelsea did eventually slip from fifth to finish sixth in the Premier League – their lowest position since Abramovich purchased the club –their form rallied in the cup competitions. Liverpool were defeated at Wembley to secure a third FA Cup in four seasons before the crowning success against Bayern in Munich.
Chelsea lost only three times in 21 matches under Di Matteo and the squad united in public praise of his efforts. Even so, he has to endure nearly a month of uncertainty since the triumph in Munich until now his representatives have concluded an agreement for a two-year contract.
= = = =