Chelsea Football Club took the decision on Wednesday to remove manager Roberto Di Matteo from his post after eight months in charge, a period in which the Blues won the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.

Axed | Roberto Di Matteo looks on as Chelsea slump to a 3-0 defeat by Juventus in midweek, which brought about his sacking as Blues manager. (Image | The Guardian)

Having made a strong start to the season and recruited exciting new players such as Oscar, Victor Moses and Eden Hazard, Chelsea’s form dipped over the past few weeks and following the 3-0 defeat to Juventus in midweek, the club now stands on the brink of becoming the first European Cup winners to be knocked out of the competition at the group stages the following year.

Owner Roman Abramovich decided to act after Di Matteo’s side won just two of their last eight games, and chose former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez to replace the Italian as interim manager until the end of the season.

Supporters and pundits have come out to defend the man brutally fired at four in the morning without even so much as a “thanks”, and accused the Russian billionaire of being excessively ruthless in firing his manager given his exceptional achievements in such a short period of time in charge.

So far as I can tell, it appears that the only crime Di Matteo is guilty of is not being the man Abramovich wanted from the beginning, and being on “borrowed time” while everything was going well. Is that enough to warrant dismissal? I think not.

Caretaker | Rafael Benitez poses for photographs at a press conference announcing him as interim Chelsea boss until the end of the season. (Image | The Guardian)

Sometimes the face of a manager simply does not fit, and that has been the case with Di Matteo. He has not been shown any loyalty by Chelsea’s management since he took over from André Villas-Boas: it has been a stay of execution, which is a disgrace given all the former Blues midfielder did to satisfy Abramovich’s potent lust for European success.

What Di Matteo and Chelsea suffered over the past eight games has been a blip, a period of poor form that is natural when attempting to embed new signings into a team that was built so heavily around a handful of individuals last year. In trying to produce the type of swashbuckling, laissez faire football Abramovich is said to crave, Di Matteo erred by losing a couple of games here and there.

A pundit on Football Focus this morning said that perhaps Di Matteo’s sacking is simply indicative of the way things are done at Chelsea. The club is there to win at all costs, and if a few managers must be unceremoniously ushered out by Abramovich’s “henchmen”, then so be it.

Yet perhaps nobody informed Abramovich of two rather important considerations. Firstly, that Benitez is about as despised by the Chelsea faithful as anybody for his Champions League exploits with Liverpool, where over the course of a few years the two clubs practically waged war against each other in Europe, the Reds coming out on top more often than not.

Secondly, Di Matteo has been forced to cope with more off-field incidents than any other Premier League manager this season. From Ashley Cole calling the Football Association a “bunch of t***s”, to John Terry being found guilty by the same body of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, football has so often not been the main talking point at Stamford Bridge.

Did the oligarch have to lift a finger to deal with any of these crises that Di Matteo was forced to try and cope with? No, of course not. It appears that sitting up in the ivory tower really can affect your vision, and make already impatient individuals even more rash and short-sighted.

Of all the sides in the Premier League, I believe that the team which most deserves to top the table, based on the quality of football they have played, is Chelsea. As a Queens Park Rangers supporter, saying this is almost a hanging offence. Yet I believe it to be true, and given more time, Di Matteo could have made a handful of people hate the Blues just a little bit less.

Meanwhile, who could forget the other big justification for ousting Di Matteo and bringing in Benitez? Fernando Torres, the silky haired Spanish striker who has flattered to decieve ever since moving to Stamford Bridge, and was dropped by Di Matteo for the game against the Italian giants.

Benched | Fernando Torres looks on as Chelsea are thrashed in Turin, in what may have been the decision that brought about Di Matteo’s 4am dismissal. (Image | Football 365)

Perhaps it is a mere coincidence that both Villas-Boas and Di Matteo declined to play the former Liverpool hit man in their respective final games at the club, but I somewhat doubt it. Cynical though this may be, it seems that Torres must be played to justify his transfer to west London, and if a manager fails to do so, he is sent packing.

So that explains Benitez then: he has been brought in to get the best out of El Niño. If true, it is not only madness but will infuriate Chelsea fans everywhere, who naturally have far more time for players that actually produce the goods on a regular basis, which Torres does not.

It will certainly be interesting to see what sort of reception Rafa the gaffer gets from the fans now that he has been drafted in to win every single trophy this season on pain of, well, being sacked before the end of his already-short interim period in charge.

Clearly Pep Guardiola is the man Abramovich really wants, but if he expects the Spaniard to work the same magic he did at the Camp Nou, he had better give Barcelona a ring and ask if Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and their chums are available. However, that is probably not too difficult when you have more money than loyalty, sense or class as the exiled Russian seemingly does.

Have your say | Tweet the author | @chriskking

Back to Football

Twitter | @armchairpundit2

Facebook | The Armchair Pundits


Interested in writing for The Armchair Pundits?

We’re always on the lookout for aspiring journalists, click here for details on how you can start contributing.