Roberto di Matteo's reputation is intact
21 November ~ Here we go again. Roman Abramovich's ruthlessness rarely surprises Chelsea fans but his decision to sack Roberto di Matteo this morning, following a 3-0 defeat at Juventus last night, certainly has. Six months after delivering the FA Cup and elusive Champions League trophy to Stamford Bridge, and 20 games into a two-year contract, he is gone. From the perspective of Chelsea fans, the haul of trophies won during the Russian oligarch's ownership has, so far, vindicated his choice to shun long-term stability and loyalty.
But, looking back at the discarded names since taking over in 2003, from José Mourinho to Carlo Ancelotti, raises one question: what exactly does Abramovich want in a manager?
Many supporters believe that the relatively inexperienced Di Matteo, despite his success as interim coach and widespread popularity, was not the right man to lead Chelsea in the long term. Disappointing performances in the past few games, following a largely thrilling start to the season, have been used to illustrate this.
Yet memories remain vivid of those historic wins last season, from Barcelona to Bayern Munich, as he united an ageing squad hostile to change. Chief executive Ron Gourlay said in June: "We know that Roberto is the right man to lead Chelsea onto further success." How quickly things change, particularly for a side still strongly in contention to win the League.
Rather than being caused by irreconcilable tensions, his dismissal seems more a characteristic blip which could easily affect whoever is next. While Pep Guardiola remains on sabbatical, having so far resisted several approaches, the list of available replacements does not overwhelm.
Earlier this year supporters responded with hostility to rumours of Rafael Benítez, an initial favourite among bookmakers, taking over from André Villas-Boas. Even given his experience of getting the best out of Fernando Torres at Liverpool, it seems unlikely that he would favour the attacking style which Di Matteo began to successfully implement. That would most likely lead to another transitory phase and see Abramovich becoming impatient at his latest investment.
On a positive note, although Di Matteo deserved to be treated better, there is no shame in being fired by Abramovich. He joined as assistant last June, after Chris Hughton beat him to the Birmingham City job. Today, he leaves Chelsea as a European champion, with a major compensation package and no damage to his reputation.
Just look the similarly harsh Real Madrid hierarchy: Jupp Heynckes was sacked four weeks after Champions League victory and 2003 saw Vicente Del Bosque dispatched a day after winning their 29th championship. Even if, in hindsight, Di Matteo should have walked away after the victory in Munich, the decision was rather inevitable and made sooner rather than later. Good luck to whoever is next – you may need it. Tom Parfitt @tparf