Roberto Di Matteo insisted, on the eve of his first cup final as Chelsea caretaker manager, that he has "felt comfortable" since his first day in charge. Di Matteo has guided Chelsea to the FA Cup and Champions League finals, and he also received the strongest endorsement yet from captain John Terry yesterday.
The replacement of Andre Villas-Boas with Di Matteo two months ago has led to a remarkable upturn in results, but Di Matteo did not say that he felt much more at home at Stamford Bridge now than he used to.
"I felt comfortable from the first day," he said yesterday. "Nothing has changed from my position. I always had a great connection and relationship with the fans, and will have in the future as well."
Di Matteo was insistent that he was thinking only about the final. Of his own future, he said: "It's totally irrelevant. I'm just thinking about tomorrow's game and bringing a trophy home. You work so hard all season for these reasons: to be successful at the end of the season. It's a question of the club and the team trying to be successful."
Terry, however, said he was especially keen to win the cup for the benefit it would give to Di Matteo's prospects. "Obviously, to win it will put himself in a very good position," Terry said. "But he's not thinking of that at the moment, he's not letting the players get distracted by anything; he's very passionate, he's Chelsea through and through, and that's certainly rubbed off on the players. So if we can do it and the added bonus that Robbie can get the job at the end, that'd be great."
Having scored in Chelsea's victorious 1997 and 2000 FA Cup finals, Di Matteo is now on the other side of the line.
"As a player, you're involved with the team and can share your emotions, your nervousness, with your team-mates," he said. "I prepare with the technical staff to prepare the players as best as we can, but the players go on the pitch."
There is still a nervousness in management, though. "You get that adrenalin rush, the butterflies in your belly. That's why you do this job, for those emotions. It's different now as a manager, but you still have it."
Di Matteo admitted that it might be a nervous, edgy encounter at Wembley this afternoon. "Because it's a big game, nobody wants to lose, and there isn't really any chance to get back if you lose. [We are] two good teams and every game we've played against each other has been quite balanced."
Less of a football ideologue than his predecessor Andre Villas-Boas, Di Matteo admitted that his tactics were pragmatic. "It's always better to win," he said. "If you can win with some attractive style, that's probably perfection."
When asked whether he would be happy with 1-0 wins against Liverpool today and Bayern Munich on 19 May, Di Matteo said he would "sign any day".
Midfielder Jon Obi Mikel paid tribute yesterday to Di Matteo's man-management. "He is very similar to the way [Guus] Hiddink and [Jose] Mourinho did the job," Mikel said. "He has come in and noticed where the problem is and put it right. I think his man-management has been fantastic. Since Robbie took over, every game we have played has been like a cup final."
Roberto's record: Final flourishes
After just 18 games in charge, Roberto Di Matteo leads his Chelsea side out in a Cup final. The Italian will hope to continue his good record for the club, having scored in three Wembley finals as a player. Chelsea went on to win on each occasion.
1997 FA Cup final
Chelsea 2-0 Middlesbrough
Di Matteo struck after just 42 sec-onds, rifling over Ben Roberts from 30 yards. Eddie Newton also scored.
1998 League Cup final
Chelsea 2-0 Middlesbrough
Same opponents, same score as Frank Sinclair and Di Matteo won the trophy in extra time.
2000 FA Cup final
Chelsea 1-0 Aston Villa
In the last final at the old Wembley, the Italian kept up his run, capitalising on a David James mistake to score from close range.