x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Chelsea must look at the bigger picture

Roberto Di Matteo was exemplary as interim manager but his brand of anti-football does not fit in Chelsea's long-term plans.

Roberto Di Matteo is not in the same class as the top football coaches, according to our columnist. Adrian Dennis / AFP
Roberto Di Matteo is not in the same class as the top football coaches, according to our columnist. Adrian Dennis / AFP

The clamour for Roberto Di Matteo to be appointed Chelsea manager full time after winning the Champions League last week is driven by ecstatic fans who don't get the full picture. I can understand why the club have been hesitant.

I'll see Di Matteo this weekend as I'm playing in a veterans' tournament against him in Barbados. He'll receive congratulations for winning in Munich and he'll get lots of backslapping from players telling him that he deserves to get a long contract at Stamford Bridge.

With the greatest respect, I won't be one of them. It's right that Di Matteo is congratulated for winning against all the odds in Munich, although the role of his assistant Eddie Newton – himself an excellent coach – has been overlooked.

Between them, they devised a system to stop Chelsea losing in cup matches after they took over in a caretaker role in February. They then got very, very lucky with that ultra-defensive system.

Chelsea's league position didn't improve under Di Matteo and the football wasn't even as entertaining as that played under Andre Villas-Boas, but luck never deserted them.

Maybe Chelsea as a club deserved some luck in Europe. They went out to a last-minute goal to Barcelona's Andres Iniesta in the 2009 semi-finals, a year after they lost the final on penalties in Moscow.

They were right to feel hard done by both times, but Barcelona, Napoli, Benfica and Bayern Munich can all feel similarly unfortunate after being eliminated by Chelsea this season in Europe.

Barcelona bossed both games and missed a penalty. How often does Lionel Messi miss a penalty? Chelsea, with 10 men, got a wonder goal from Ramires and then Fernando Torres scored. Their name was on the cup from that moment.

Chelsea set out to get draws and rode their luck.

That Ashley Cole, a defender, was their outstanding player in Munich, speaks volumes.

Didier Drogba has spent a week being celebrated after a superb equalising header and penalty, but he didn't do anything until he scored the goal and he's been mediocre this season.

That's why Roman Abramovich is correct in looking at the bigger picture. I'm told he will offer Di Matteo a year because he feels that he has to, but what chance does Di Matteo have when his football is so defensive? Didn't Jose Mourinho lose his job because Chelsea's football wasn't attractive enough?

Di Matteo was a decent enough player, a neat and tidy midfielder in a class below the best of his generations, the Vieiras, Petits, Keanes and even Dennis Wise. He fitted in with the others at Chelsea, a team full of what I called 'Tottenham players' – someone who is arrogant, flashy on the ball, makes passes to teammates five yards away and then runs to retrieve the ball. Someone who has a big name, but a soft underbelly which can be exploited when the going gets tough. Someone who wins next to nothing.

I played against him several times and he never made an impact on me like the best midfielders.

Di Matteo has done well enough in management at MK Dons and West Brom. He has a good future in management, but he's not in the same class as the top coaches, the ones Chelsea should be looking at, the ones they have used and sacked in recent years. He may have won the FA Cup and Champions League, but the football under Di Matteo isn't good enough.

A truly great coach – and Chelsea have the resources to appoint the very best – should be going against the biggest teams aiming for a win, not planning to hold out for a draw. That is anti-football and a side as expensively assembled as Chelsea should be better than that.

Nobody will remember Chelsea's European Cup winners for their great attacking football, like Barcelona last season.

The results weren't as good, yet Chelsea actually played better football under Villas-Boas. It was shame that a lot of the players didn't give enough under him. Why? Because their positions were threatened.

Villas-Boas is an excellent coach and I hope he gets another chance at another big club. Maybe he'll get the Liverpool job, though they seem to be approaching several potential targets and getting knocked back by them, which is a puzzling tactic.

Whoever is in charge at Stamford Bridge faces a mammoth task to change an ageing squad, a process Villas-Boas began.

Abramovich wants free-flowing football, but for Chelsea to play like that they need to change their system and their personnel.

And, while he's right to revel in success achieved against all odds, there are better people to do that than Roberto Di Matteo.


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