So Chelsea have sacked another manager. It’s hardly a surprise anymore – it’s a club where a four-week run of bad form is likely to see you shown the door.
But that doesn’t make this decision anything less than appalling.
Six months ago Roberto Di Matteo won the Champions League and FA Cup. No other manager has ever won us the Champions League – the title we were always told Roman Abramovich wanted more than any other.
And just a few weeks ago we were top of the league and playing some of the nicest football we’ve played for years. Yes, we’ve faltered since then, but does that really mean the manager deserved the sack?
He’s been missing John Terry and Frank Lampard, the two central figures from the team for the past decade, a pair with more than 1,000 games between them.
Ashley Cole also missed a few games. That sort of experience can’t be replaced easily in what is actually a surprisingly thin squad.
Di Matteo did sometimes seem to be lacking a Plan B.
If the neat passing, tricky dribbling and balls through to Fernando Torres were not working we didn’t really seem to have anything else to go with.
But was that really Di Matteo’s fault? Torres and Daniel Sturridge were the only centre-forwards he was left with this season – and Sturridge has been injured for much of it, plus he still doesn’t look the finished product.
The decision to not replace Didier Drogba when he left (on top of Nicolas Anelka leaving in January, also not replaced) always seemed likely to leave us short of options up front.
You could argue Di Matteo should have spotted that and argued for another signing but there is a lingering feeling it might have fallen on deaf ears.
It’s widely thought the man with the money is the biggest influence behind the signings and maybe this was Abramovich’s way of ensuring his purchase of Torres could work?
We’ve been poor in the Champions League this season, although it is a very difficult group to be handed as holders. And of course we won the thing last season.
And that wasn’t just a case of Di Matteo turning up halfway through the season and finishing off a job – it was a major task.
The Chelsea he inherited were in disarray and were 3-1 down after the first leg of the last 16 against Napoli.
To get through that, then subsequently beat Benfica, the mighty Barcelona and win the final away to Bayern Munich with loads of players missing was an amazing achievement.
But then Di Matteo is not the first Chelsea manager to be sacked after amazing achievements.
It was actually happening before the Abramovich era, when Ken Bates sacked both Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli a few months after winning trophies.
Jose Mourinho was sacked after winning two league titles and Carlo Ancelotti after winning the Double.
It is these men Di Matteo deserves comparison with – men who have bought silverware to Stamford Bridge and yet somehow found themselves out of job.
His length of service is similar to that of Avram Grant, Luis Felipe Scolari and Andre Villas-Boas but Di Matteo achieved far more than they did.
There is a suspicion that when Di Matteo was appointed last year he was only ever meant to be a stop-gap until the right man came along, only for the Champions League win to force Abramovich into giving him the job permanently. But when has the Russian ever been forced into doing something he doesn’t want?
So who’s next? The bookies’ favourite is Rafael Benitez and I’ve already had one mate (not a Chelsea fan) point out to me that he’s got a great record in Europe.
But he’s actually won the Champions League the same number of times as Di Matteo, from several more attempts.
And more importantly, he is very unpopular among Chelsea fans, stemming back to the days of a series of bitter clashes between our club and Liverpool in his time there.
I very much hope it is not him – but then I was quite happy giving Di Matteo, the legend who made Chelsea the champions of Europe, enough time to try to weather the current storm.
Then again, I was quite happy with Gullit, Vialli, Mourinho and Ancelotti.
Di Matteo isn’t the first to be unfairly axed and he probably won’t be the last, which is a depressing thought in itself.
James Clarke is the author of Moody Blues: Following the second-best team in Europe
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