This first appeared on SB Nation on Monday.
After Chelsea’s extraordinary Champions League final shootout victory over Bayern Munich, interim manager Roberto di Matteo has a unique managerial C.V. Resisting the urge to say that ‘you couldn’t make it up’ (a resistance made possible by the ease with which I could invent a similarly unlikely relative-rags to relative-riches tale), I will limit my comments to what the uniqueness of di Matteo’s C.V. actually means now; what it means, to use the sickening phrase favoured by the sort of suits that hang out in football’s boardrooms, ‘going forward’.
‘RDM’s ‘Previous Employment’ section is highly unusual and what makes it such is the decontextualised nature of the unprecedented achievements with which it ends. In the football-as-business age, no manager has come from such commonplace obscurity to such grandeur: Franchise FC – YoYo Club – European Champions.
June 2008 – June 2009
Manager of Milton Keynes Dons: finished 3rd in League One, lost in Play-Off semi-final, both 2009.
June 2009 – February 2011
Manager of West Bromwich Albion: promoted to Premier League, 2010; fired, 2011.
June 2011 – March 2012
Assistant Manager of Chelsea
March 2012 – present
Interim First Team Coach of Chelsea: won FA Cup, won UEFA Champions League, both 2012.
This could suggest two things. First, it could that di Matteo was simply a diamond in the rough and has now emerged from the subterfuge of Roman Abramovich’s latest detonation to claim what is merely his rightful place amongst European Football’s power players. A second explanation is that Chelsea have decent players and pretty much know what they’re doing.
As attractive as the first account is, especially to those (like me) who would like to see some other potential diamonds, Roberto Martinez, Paul Lambert, David Moyes, Brendan Rodgers, given more prominent positions from which to gleam across English football (or otherwise, as may be), it strikes me that the second is the more likely. While neutrals would love to see Martinez given his chance at Liverpool, one suspects that Liverpool fans may be more reticent and Chelsea, after all, have previous. Avram Grant, subsequent events (consecutive Premier League relegations) have proved, is not a good manager but only John Terry’s schadenfreude-soaked slip cost the Israeli yes-man an illustrious place on the list of Champions League winning managers.
Temporary, or in di Matteo’s case ‘interim’, managers often have initial success: look at Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool last season. Often, though, this is followed by a downturn, and then by dismissal: look at Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool this season. Yes the players want di Matteo to stay; of course they do, he resurrected them from under Andre Villas Boas’s rebuilding brief and they repaid him with trophies – they’ll be looking for a similar story next season (they call him ‘Robbie’, for goodness sake). The Chelsea hierarchy, however, will know that that is unlikely and would, in any case, only delay an inevitable reconstituting of the club. Winning the Champions League with this group of players does not mean that di Matteo will be successful with the next. There is, after all, nothing in that unusual CV to indicate that he can.
None of which, though, is to say that di Matteo shouldn’t be given the job; he just shouldn’t begiven it. He should be given an interview, at which he should be asked to explain how he would rejuvenate an ageing squad. ‘Roberto’, so Bruce Buck should begin, ‘you witnessed your old boss balls it up, but we all know this has to be done – Lamps and the Drog can’t go on forever: how would you rebuild this team?’
That, fundamentally, is the question that will drive the decision over who will be Chelsea’s next manager and it is a question that Pep Guardiola/Fabio Capello/Rafa Benitiez/(add name of choice) should, and probably will, also be asked. Roberto di Matteo’s CV is unique, and it does end impressively, but it is still just a CV; one which makes him a unique and an impressive candidate, but not an automatic choice.