131st FA Cup Final: which one will the neutrals be cheering for?
the battle of the Wembley suits
April 30th, 2012
In the first of a two part series ahead of the pending FA Cup, Dan Levene takes a look at the club managers, head to head.
Saturday’s 131st FA Cup final will see two managers again lead their teams out for one of English football’s most prestigious moments.
Here I take a look at the two bosses and ask: which one will the neutrals be cheering for?
During the great, turgid battles of the noughties, Jose Mourinho went toe-to-toe with Rafael Benitez in a series of encounters that were largely a cure for insomnia.
Any fireworks tended to happen off-pitch: with the Blues boss frequently opening up a can of conspiracy and intrigue.
Now, with Chelsea to face Liverpool at Wembley, there has been a change in headline billing.
The two current managers have much in common. Both are fan heroes, who played a major role in packing the trophy cabinets at their home grounds. But they are very different men.
So who are Roberto Di Matteo and Kenny Dalglish?
History shows Dalglish, despite a hugely distinguished playing career, never scored an FA Cup final goal.
Di Matteo, whose career was cruelly ended when he had much more to give, scored decisive goals in two finals – both won by Chelsea.
‘King’ Kenny is surely the only man in football (or anywhere else) to out-Dour-Scot the original Dour Scotsman – Sir Alex Ferguson. His press conferences are a mixture of pain, tedium, and fear. In instructing (not asking) the FA to schedule Liverpool’s semi-final away from the Hillsborough anniversary, he turned a reasonable request into a typically arrogant demand.
Di Matteo, meanwhile, is affability personified. Seldom says much to get the headline-writers whirring but, unlike his counterpart, never actually leaves journalists feeling they are about to be pinned up against a wall.
Di Matteo’s pragmatic mix of doggedness (over two legs against Barcelona) and Champagne football (against Napoli, QPR and Tottenham) has won plaudits at Chelsea and beyond. He has won 11, and lost just one of his 16 games in charge.
Meanwhile Dalglish has presided over performances so haphazard, the phone-ins are starting to fill with Reds from as far afield as Watford, Rugby, and even Liverpool, saying his time is up. He has won just six, and lost seven of his last 16 games.
The two men have dealt with supporter controversies in markedly different ways: Dalglish fanning the flames of the Luis Suarez race-hate affair; Di Matteo lamenting the behaviour of a few rogue fans disrupting a minute’s silence at the semi final.
What the future holds for both managers will be as unclear at full time on Saturday as it is now. Di Matteo knows the last stand-in manager to take Chelsea to a Champions League final was given his cards just days after the event.
And Dalglish has, according to some sources, already attempted to end his latest reign at Anfield on more than one occasion.
But, come 5.15pm on Saturday, and the battle of the Wembley suits: one will stride out with suave dignity; while the other will scowl with his usual bitterness.
Check out the rest of Dan Levene’s Footballscores.com Chelsea blog.