Sam Wallace: Di Matteo not right man to rebuild at the Bridge

 

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The Independent Online

The bookmakers have Chelsea at the longest odds of all four Champions League semi-finalists to win the competition. It would, admittedly, take two further monumental performances that they simply may not have in them. Tomorrow's second leg comes at the end of a draining 10-day, four-game run. Even in spite of the players who were rested, they looked like they were running out of steam at the Emirates on Saturday.

But the question remains: where does it leave Chelsea if they win the Champions League next month?

It would mean the club were faced with an extraordinary decision on whether a caretaker manager, whose appointment was never intended to last beyond the end of the season, might have to be given the job permanently. If only for the trifling reason that Roberto Di Matteo will have just delivered the club and its owner the one trophy they had spent nine years and the best part of £1bn trying to win.

No one would argue that this Chelsea team is anything like as good as it has been over the last five years, yet football occasionally presents anomalies like the trophy at the end of a bad season or the slump no one expected. No individual, however good, is immune to the bad moments. If Lionel Messi can get sidetracked into an argument with Alvaro Arbeloa, as he did on Saturday, and end up frustrated and defeated, then it can happen to anyone.

If Chelsea eliminate Barcelona and go on to win the final in Munich, the point still stands that they need to change. That whatever new era is being ushered in this summer cannot be delayed or postponed simply because they stumbled upon the European Cup.

If Di Matteo, admirable though his effort has been, was not considered ready to do the long-term rebuilding job as manager last summer, then common sense would dictate he would not be the man to continue next season. But it goes deeper than just Di Matteo's future. This season could end in Chelsea being European champions, it could also end with them in the Europa League. Either way, it feels like a watershed.

It was enlightening to read the reasons Txiki Begiristain, the Barcelona technical director for seven years until 2010, gave for not joining Chelsea when he left Barça. "It's not enough to have a technical director who only deals with the academy and grassroots work; he's also got to be able to influence the first team as well and be able to take the vision forward," he said in an interview with The Times.

It shone a light on a disconnect at the heart of Chelsea which has been detectable since Jose Mourinho's last full season in 2006-07. Besides the six managers – temporary and permanent – who have come since Mourinho, there has been Frank Arnesen, the former sporting director, the various advisers and then the prerogative of Roman Abramovich himself to shuffle the pack.

The Abramovich years tend to be remembered for the bad signings and the managerial appointments that went wrong. The three hard-won Premier League titles get overlooked. Abramovich's club gate-crashed one of the biggest cabals in English football's history and, once in there, they refused to leave.

Even if Chelsea become European champions next month, that does not mean the current system is vindicated or even that the current manager is the man for the future. If Chelsea need any more convincing, they need only recall that Avram Grant was one penalty kick away from winning the competition.

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