It is unthinkable that Di Matteo will not be offered the job now
Chelsea's European trophy and Roberto Mancini's Premier League title show that Italian managers are in vogue
Sunday 20 May 2012
When Andre Villas-Boas was sacked between the perturbing first leg and glorious second of Chelsea's Champions League encounter with Napoli, it was intimated that Roberto di Matteo would have until the end of the season to prove his worth. He could hardly have presented more impressive credentials in less than three months and it seems inconceivable now that the club will start next season without Di Matteo at the helm.
A week after Roberto Mancini's brandishing of the Premier League trophy, Italians are back in fashion (although Di Matteo was brought up in Switzerland, Italy is his footballing nationality). And Fabio Capello, in whom Chelsea were supposed to be interested despite his denial yesterday that any contact had been made, was here to witness Di Matteo's greatest achievement. Crazy as it may seem that a manager should be ultimately judged on the basis of penalties scored or missed by his players, Di Matteo did guide the team to an FA Cup final victory and an against-the-odds aggregate triumph over Barcelona before this crowning glory in Bavaria.
He has not only shown an understanding of how to revive Chelsea's spirit. Tactically as well, Di Matteo could hardly have put a more distinctive stamp on the crucial months over which he has had control. He has been bold and cautious. It has taken resolve as well as acumen to concentrate on defending against Barcelona both home and away (when John Terry's dismissal would have forced his hand had he not already played it) and then to do the same in a single match here, giving Bayern a near-monopoly of the initiative on their own pitch.
There were moments of fortune, but the initial deployment of Ryan Bertrand in front of Ashley Cole appeared to constrain Phillip Lahm and this reduced the influence of Arjen Robben, who never threatened as he can. The worry was that, when Chelsea edged forward and the exchanges became more open, it was Bayern who fashioned the better opportunities. A lack of composure in the penalty area which Chelsea had protected afflicted Gomez, causing Jupp Heynckes to squirm as he began to entertain the thought that Bayern's possession might not prove any more significant against Chelsea than Barcelona's had. A hush descended over many Bavarians, though the vast choir behind the goal tended first by Manuel Neuer then Petr Cech maintained encouragement. Even breakthroughs in normal time and the penalty shoot-out were not enough for Bayern, however; once again the slender margin between success and perceived failure in management was revealed.
Seldom can it have been more dramatically illustrated than amid the drama of the Etihad Stadium last Sunday. After 90 minutes Roberto Mancini, wracked by frustration to the point where he was almost openly cursing his Manchester City players' profligacy, faced, at best, another long season before the jury of opinion. Five minutes later he was a champion. And within a couple of days he was flying to Abu Dhabi to discuss, among other matters, a contract extension. A less euphoric journey was undertaken by Kenny Dalglish, whose final agreement as Liverpool manager took the form of a payoff; the American owners' bath in the supporters' gratitude for having appointed him had long since gone cold and, in this instance, even a wrestling of ascendancy from Chelsea in the FA Cup final would probably not have saved him.
Capello' presence naturally sparked pre-match speculation. The former England manager spent some time chatting on the pitch with Terry, in whose right to the national captaincy the Italian so firmly believed that he walked away from the job months away from a European Championship.
In the suspended Terry's absence, not to mention those of Ramires, Raul Meireles and Branislav Ivanovic, Di Matteo organised his resources astutely and the spirit of Chelsea was evident throughout – not least in brave blocks by Gary Cahill, from Müller in the opening minutes, and Ashley Cole from Robben on the hour.
Cole gave a marvellous performance as the old heads strove to keep the trophy in their sight, Frank Lampard helping as well as midfielders joined defenders in filling the spaces into which Müller, Ribèry and Robben darted.
With 20 minutes left and Bayern swarming, Di Matteo at last betrayed a modicum of anxiety, advancing from the bench to whistle repeatedly; what he wanted to transmit in advance of a free-kick by Lahm was unknown, but the set piece was cleared anyway. His next intervention, sending on Florent Malouda for Bertrand, signalled a push for victory and almost coincidentally Cole got forward, crossing for Didier Drogba to trouble Neuer
It was a fascinating game of cat and mouse and here was Di Matteo taking on Jupp Heynckes, one of the craftier and more experienced campaigners in the European game. He had little option but to gamble on Fernando Torres after Bayern took the lead and the equaliser changed the contest's dynamic, even if Bayern did not collapse as in 1999.
Harry's heartache: A night of what might have been for Tottenham
The misery of Tottenham's terrible end to the season was complete last night after Chelsea snatched away their place in the Champions' League. Harry Redknapp was two minutes away from mixing it next season with Europe's elite when Didier Drogba rescued Chelsea with a header that earned them extra time, then penalties and there was Drogba again to apply the coup de grâce.
Now Redknapp can forget about taking on Barcelona, or Real Madrid, or Borussia Dortmund and instead he is left to contemplate another outing in the continent's second division – the Europa League.
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