Despite the huge sums of money required to secure the services of Andre Villas-Boas, Robert Di Matteo must have had an inkling that, by accepting a role as Assistant First-Team Coach, there was a good chance that he would inherit the reins at Chelsea sooner or later.
Di Matteo has returned to the club where he is fondly regarded and experienced both the peak and the painful end of his domestic playing career. A £4.9m signing from Lazio by Ruud Gullit in 1996, he scored three goals in three Wembley finals, his career came to a brutal end with a triple leg fracture that was so severe that there were initial fears regarding whether his leg could be saved.
He took a five year break from the game before commencing his managerial career at MK Dons in League One. He led them to third place and a play off semi-final defeat before West Brom poached him to replace Tony Mowbray. Tasked with masterminding a return to the Premier League at the first attempt, Albion finished second and secured automatic promotion. Despite a 6-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge on the opening day, West Brom made an impressive start to the campaign, winning at Arsenal and drawing at Old Trafford. A run of seven defeats in nine games, coupled with the availability of Roy Hodgson, resulted in his dismissal last February.
Di Matteo has recorded an impressive 50% win percentage in his 139 matches as manager and has four wins from his first four Chelsea matches, their best run since Guus Hiddink’s spell in charge. He demonstrated his class and expressed his gratitude by dedicating the 2-0 FA Cup victory over Birmingham to Villas-Boas, revealing: “My thoughts go to Andre, to our manager.” In the 1-0 home win over Stoke last weekend, he responded to the sending off of Ricardo Fuller by making an astute tactical switch, removing Raul Meireles after 37 minutes and adding Juan Mata, who contributed towards the only goal of the game.
Ahead of his appointment, The Sun revealed that Di Matteo was even less popular than the departing Villas-Boas, with a source conceding: “The players could not stand AVB because of his arrogance. But, if anything, they like Roberto even less.” Whether or not there is any truth in the claim, Di Matteo restored the seasoned campaigners to the starting line up on Wednesday for the visit of Napoli, as Chelsea were tasked with overturning a 3-1 defeat in Naples and they responded with an epic 4-1 victory. A 5-2 win against Leicester on Sunday secured a trip to Wembley, with Fernando Torres’ brace providing another feather for Di Matteo’s cap.
After appearing to down tools in recent weeks, Di Matteo’s appointment has rejuvenated both Chelsea’s disgruntled squad and his own future managerial prospects. In a role where he can only enhance his reputation, he has already exceeded all expectations.
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