Roberto Di Matteo: coaching genius or beginner’s luck?
“Yes I can do what I just did – and from 40 yards.”
April 3rd, 2012
After eight managers in as many years, could Roman Abramovich have stumbled upon the right man for Chelsea in Roberto Di Matteo?
While the Cobham caretakers closet was under Avram Grant or Guus Hiddink’s control – there was much talk about who would be next. That isn’t happening now.
Perhaps because fans and media, like players, are so relieved about the defrosting of the SW6 corner of Narnia following the demise of Snow Queen Villas-Boas.
But I like to think it is because Di Mateo has brought a new feeling of relaxation to the club. Everyone seems less fraught than they did a couple of months back.
Of all characters that emerged from the Gullitt-Vialli era at Chelsea: Di Matteo seemed least likely to develop as a manager.
His relaxed approach to the game was characterised by flamboyant goal celebrations, and a cocky smile that said: “Yes I can do what I just did – and from 40 yards.”
Few were surprised when, rather than taking coaching badges, he opened an Italian restaurant. Typical Robbie: less cones, more Chianti.
But, as so often happens, Di Matteo’s retirement was what shaped his later career.
The shocking double leg break he suffered at St Gallen meant he had to bow out far too early – and left him with unfinished business.
He started in management promisingly at MK Dons, and was snapped-up by West Brom – though he stuttered when they were promoted to the Premier League.
When made Villas-Boas’ assistant, many saw him as a stooge to curry favour with fans.
But the turnaround he has achieved at Chelsea is remarkable – no less so than in the Champions League encounters with Napoli and Benfica.
Coaching genius? Or beginners luck?
Neither. Sometimes, elite athletes need something less considered than Powerpoint presentations on Opta stats. Sometimes they need the freedom to do what they do best. And Di Matteo has enabled that.
The Villas-Boas Project is not over. Chelsea still seem keen to reduce the wage bill and diminish player power. Remember: Lampard and Drogba started on the bench at Benfica.
But he is going about it in a different way: by reasoning with those involved; while Villas-Boas seemed to treat it all like a game of Championship Manager.
Robbie is by no means Mr Nice: the most frequently used word by those who work close to him is ‘aloof’. But he has at least introduced emotion, understanding, and humanity where there had been a deficit of all three.
Could the caretaker become a permanent fixture? Probably not, because in the long-term Chelsea need more than what Di Matteo can reasonably offer.
But for now he’s the right man. And the the first time in a long while, the Chelsea manager has the unqualified support of the vast majority of fans.
Words by Dan Levene, check out the rest of his Chelsea blog on Footballscores.com