After just six games, Roberto Di Matteo is making his mark as Chelsea’s interim manager
These are strange times at Chelsea, who risk missing out on next year’s Champions League before even going out of this season’s competition. These were two potentially very significant dropped points in the Premier League for the last remaining English side in Europe.
For all the enjoyable distraction of the FA Cup, Roberto Di Matteo knows that it is the Champions League that most obsesses Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. With fourth place looking difficult after the stalemate with Spurs at Stamford Bridge, the pressure grows even greater on Di Matteo to progress in Europe this season, first devising a way of stifling Benfica’s danger-men like Oscar Cardozo, Nicolas Gaitan and Pablo Aimar in Lisbon on Tuesday. Reaching the semi-finals, most likely against Barcelona, would add some lustre to Di Matteo’s short reign.
In his smart suit and narrow tie, Di Matteo cuts a stylish figure on the touchline, not quite a Jose Mourinho as the king of the catwalk, but still exuding a certain confidence. That round-of-16 victory over Napoli has enhanced the Italian’s innate self-belief, a mood captured in his dance of joy after defeating his compatriots. “My celebrations were just very instinctive,’’ said Di Matteo. “It showed what this means to me and I was happy for the players. They had been getting a lot of stick and so I was happy to see them express themselves in the Champions League. We are trying very hard to prove everybody wrong that wrote us off.
“We are the only team left though so we can be proud – you can say that loud! I have not thought at all about being the one who wins Chelsea the Champions League. I have Benfica in my mind. I do dream but not only about football.” Yet Chelsea’s interim head coach awakes most mornings to speculation about the likely identity of Andre Villas-Boas’ long-term successor.
Headlines extol the credentials of Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, serial winners and experienced campaigners compared to a managerial ingenu like Di Matteo, who has only MK Dons and West Brom on his CV.