After millions spent, all Chelsea needed was a West Brom reject

2012-04-28 00:00

THE footballing world has never passed up on opportunities to fashion new heroes. While Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were brought to their knees after their respective Champions League disappointments this week, Chelsea’s caretaker boss, Robert Di Matteo, is now 90 minutes away from bringing the most-sought after trophy in club football to Stamford Bridge.

It hasn’t been an easy road for the Italian, but if he manages to orchestrate a victory over Bayern Munich on May 19, he will surely be the prime candidate to assume full responsibility of Roman Abramovich’s empire, if he isn’t already.

Having guided West Bromwich Albion to the Premier League in the 2009/10 season, Di Matteo was sacked by the club in February 2011 after a poor run of results. How the bosses of the West Midlands club must be ruing that decision now.

After his departure from the Hawthorns, Di Matteo applied for a job at first division outfit Birmingham City, but he was overlooked.

Instead, he had to settle for a role outside of the limelight as assistant to Abramovich’s latest prodigy — the young and energetic Andre Villas-Boas. But we all know how that turned out, and now Di Matteo is the main man at the Bridge.

The Champions League has been at the top of Abramovich’s Christmas list every year since Chelsea won the Premier League in the 2004/05 season. He has spent millions getting in managers who he believed to be the world’s best.

Mourinho, Grant, Scolari, Hiddink, Ancelotti and Villas-Boas have all come at a high price, but failed in their core objective.

AVB will argue that he should be at least partially credited for Chelsea’s continental success this season, but little Roberto made sure he would hog the headlines after unceremoniously dumping Pep’s mighty Barca — I guess we can’t call it that anymore — out of the competition.

Two things have emerged from Di Matteo’s golden run of influence at Chelsea. Firstly, it shows that Abramovich should leave the footballing decisions up to, well, anybody else really. Maybe he has learnt this now. The new season will the Russian gazzillionaire the opportunity to prove that he is not completely illogical. Regardless of what happens against Bayern, Di Matteo must surely be the man to take Chelsea forward next season.

The second thing Roberto has taught us? You never turn your back on the “old guard”. While AVB’s tendency to throw young players into important matches had the right intentions, it hurt the club badly. In attempting to find a balance between youth and experience, AVB favoured youth. But under Di Matteo, the likes of Lampard, Terry and Drogba are running around the pitch with an energy most commonly seen in debutants. They have had new life breathed into them. Heck, even Torres is scoring! That alone separates Di Matteo from his predecessors. “£50 million paid back in a second.” That had to make you chuckle.

There is also the small matter of an FA Cup final against Liverpool on May 5, so what at one stage looked like being a woeful season for Chelsea fans could end up being a highly fruitful one. Time will tell. But spare a thought for Newcastle in all of this.

If Di Matteo beats Bayern, then Newcastle will more than likely be the side that misses out on qualification for next year’s Champions League, even if they finish in the top four and ahead of Chelsea.

But with the way things are going for Di Matteo at the moment, you wouldn’t put it past him.

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