James Lawton: Has rouble dropped that Di Matteo is the future?


No, you don't have to be cowering behind the barricades of Arsenal or Tottenham choking on your angst to grasp that Chelsea's Champions League glory is one of the most outrageous assaults on the laws of probability in the game's history.

Or that if they had enjoyed any more good fortune the gods of fate would even now still be in the middle of a stewards' inquiry.

Yet in all understanding of some of the more glorious incongruities of life there is surely also something else to say. It is that if you cannot respond in some positive way to the core elements of their success, and most notably an absolutely pig-headed refusal to accept the idea of defeat, you should probably make off to the nearest cave and bury your head along with your heart.

That certainly was the conclusion here when Didier Drogba showed he had both the will and the talent to continue defying those odds which had been so astonishingly beaten not once but twice against the team said to be not only the best in the world but possibly of all time.

Bayern Munich, despite their upset of Barça's other conquerors this season, Real Madrid, could not in 1,000 years entertain such pretensions, even when on Saturday night they were piling up another set of improbable statistics against the possibility of a Chelsea triumph. That, however, did little to restrict the wonder when Drogba sent in his rocket equaliser and then applied the final killing stroke from the spot.

Like a matador bathed in the acclaim of his public, he made a sweeping and generous dedication of his latest riveting performance. He made it on behalf of all the managers who had perished on the anvil of Roman Abramovich's scatter-gun ambition – and to those of his team-mates who, like him, had survived the chaos of Andre Villas-Boas's brief reign and declared once more that all those plans to have them shuffle off the stage were as demeaning as they were premature.

They had, we saw again in the repulsing of waves of Bayern attacks, once again responded to the challenge offered them by the interim manager, Roberto Di Matteo. They had fought with an honesty of effort – and, in the cases of Ashley Cole, Drogba and Petr Cech, sublime moments of resistance to huge pressure – which not only provided a most powerful case for the retention of Di Matteo but also may just have separated the owner from some of his most damaging misconceptions about how you best run a hugely resourced football club.

It was certainly tempting to believe that, somewhere behind Abramovich's inscrutable expression, the rouble had dropped. Yet how many times has such speculation given way to another half-cocked version of football reality?

It happened after the first surges of Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti. It erupted when the morale of the club was devastated by the crude sacking of Ancelotti's Man Friday, assistant Ray Wilkins. It was written all over the owner's £50m infatuation with Fernando Torres. It brought dismay with the arrival of Villas-Boas and the spectacle of a coach and a dressing room in open warfare.

Now we are led to believe that the brilliant holding operation of Di Matteo, the one that finally delivered on the £1bn investment, has merely placed him in the field somewhere behind the likes of Fabio Capello and Pep Guardiola.

Of course, it is the oligarch's money and his playpen and there may be credible arguments that if Di Matteo has produced all the right responses to the situation he found when the embarrassment of the Villas-Boas regime was terminated, it may also be that his greatest ability has already been displayed in the last few months.

Maybe, maybe not, but if any manager on earth was asked to gather together a body of work and stand by it for the rest of his professional life, it is hard to imagine a more substantial monument than the one Di Matteo has built for himself since being handed his doomsday assignment in the wake of Chelsea's 3-1 thrashing at Naples in the round of 16.

The challenge of fighting back into the top four proved too much after a run of such demoralising form under Villas-Boas, but in all other respects Di Matteo has nailed every one of his targets.

We cannot know yet how he might make his priorities in building a new team, how judiciously he would introduce the new blood and drain off the old. We do not know how well he might refine the tactics that in the last few months have mostly involved reinstating the certainties imposed by Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Ancelotti.

But there are a few qualities we know. As the heroes of the Allianz Arena stepped forward to pay their tributes to this man, what they all said was that no one could have done more to keep something alive that so many had deemed impossible. It could be some time before we hear again such a thunderous tribute.