Leg injury forces Di Matteo into early retirement

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The Independent Football

Roberto Di Matteo has announced his retirement at the age of 31 because of injury. Chelsea's former Italian international has failed in an 18-month attempt to recover from the triple leg fracture he suffered against the Swiss club St Gallen in September 2000. "I have worked hard to try and get back but unfortunately I am still experiencing problems and I have had to face up to the sad decision that my playing days are over," he said yesterday.

Chelsea's managing director, Colin Hutchinson, offered his sympathy to a "genuine nice guy" after the midfielder underwent several operations before finally conceding to the injury. "This is devastating news and we feel for Roberto," Hutchinson said. "He has worked long and hard to try to get back playing. He has endured a series of painful operations and slogged away on the training ground but cruelly the injury has beaten him.

"Not only was he an outstanding player for Chelsea but he is a genuine nice guy. He will rightly have a place in Chelsea's history and we wish him and his family well for the future. He will always be welcome at Chelsea. He is very much part of the club family."

Di Matteo joined Chelsea for a then club record £4.9m from Lazio in July 1996 and scored Wembley's fastest goal after 43 seconds of the 1997 FA Cup final win over Middlesbrough.

Arsenal are resigned to playing their FA Cup sixth-round tie at Newcastle at 5.35pm on a Saturday evening after the Football Association yesterday confirmed the unusual kick-off time.

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, had wanted the 9 March match at St James' Park to be brought forward a day to the Friday night or for it be designated a noon kick-off on the Saturday. However, following consultation with both the BBC and police, the FA announced that the Arsenal manager's appeal had been turned down.

With a Champions' League match against Deportivo La Coruña three days after the quarter-final on Tyneside, Wenger had wanted as much time as possible for his side to recuperate. Yet, had the European match against the Spanish side followed a normal weekend, Arsenal would have been playing at the more accustomed time of 3pm, just two-and-a-half hours earlier. The Gunners have the chance to get used to the bizarre kick-off time, with a dress rehearsal a week earlier as they travel to Newcastle for a 5.30pm match in the Premiership.

The BBC had already agreed to switch the match to Saturday, having previously screened FA Cup ties this season on Sundays, in a quest to help Arsenal's preparations. "The BBC was able to comply with the FA's request to move it from a Sunday to a Saturday," said Louisa Fyans, the BBC's head of publicity for sport. "We have moved it once and while we appreciate their needs we have done quite a lot to accommodate them."

The controversy aside, an early evening kick-off will provide better viewing figures compared to a noon start. "Viewing figures are better in the evening and this will give more people a chance to watch the game," Fyans added.

The FA says it is sympathetic to Arsenal's plight. But the FA's director of communications, Paul Newman, said: "The BBC have a contractual right to having a game on Sunday evening.

"Arsenal thought that wasn't possible because of the Champions' League game and they would have preferred a Friday match but that couldn't be done because Newcastle are playing on the Wednesday. Obviously the BBC wants a time that brings the best audience, and the evening start will help fans travelling up from London. It also meets police requirements."