KEIR RADNEDGE in MUNICH: The last time Chelsea appeared in the Champions League Final, back in 2008, their manager was also a stop-gap. Roberto Di Matteo is planning and plotting and hoping to avoid the fate of Avram Grant who did not survive the Blues’ shootout defeat to Manchester United in Moscow.

The issue of whether Di Matteo will continue as fulltime manager after his five months as stand-in for Andre Villas-Boas will remain in question, win or lose.

Owner Roman Abramovich had entrusted the two men with entirely different tasks. AVB was supposed to rebuild the squad while simultaneously keeping the ‘old guard’ onside and keeping the team winning. He had started the first task but was failing with the other two.

Di Matteo was entrusted with nothing as complicated. ‘All’ he had to do was steady the ship without worrying about anything beyond this season. Securing a Champions League presence through the league proved beyond him; but he still has this one lifeline, in Munich.

One advantage enjoyed by Di Matteo evolved from the six years he spent as a winning Chelsea player between 1996 and 2002 when he understood the importance of a manager in England maintaining a dialogue with his players. Both Villas-Boas and Fabio Capello with England might have helped themselves by working harder at narrowing the ‘communications gap.’

The outcome is that Chelsea are 90 minutes away from fulfilling Abramovich’s Champions League dream.

“Robi,” says his old coach Rolf Fringer, who bossed Di Matteo in the ‘old days’ at Aarau, “has brought a positive dynamic to the team in terms of spirit and tactics. You can see the players, including the senior ones, respect the way he has gone about the job.”

If Chelsea win in Munich then ‘respect’ will be Di Matteo’s due from all of European football.

As for Abramovich, who knows?


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