As strange as it may seem, Roberto Di Matteo’s managerial position at Chelsea had become untenable. Of course, you’d have to be tuned in to the way Roman Abramovich’s logic works, which in truth, the vast majority of football purists are, even if it breaks their spirit a little to admit it.
The Russian billionaire relieved one of the darlings of Stamford Bridge after seeing the club he has invested so much in falter in Turin, with a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Juventus leaving the Blues needing a miracle if they are to progress from their Champions League group. After the initial shock of the sacking of a man who guided the club to a first European Cup the previous season, reality began to bite. This is what Abramovich has been all about from day one.
The Russian’s first decisive action came in 2004 when he replaced Claudio Ranieri with the self-titled “Special One”, a tag that Jose Mourinho earned with interest in his first campaign as Chelsea won the title at a canter. Mourinho delivered and Abramovich kept the cash flowing, with Michael Essien and Didier Drogba arriving in big money moves. One criticism that could never be banded in Abramovich’s direction is that he doesn’t support his managers financially; the £50 million signing of Fernando Torres and even the £20 million for Shaun Wright-Phillips suggests stinginess isn’t one of the Russian’s vices.
Fast forward to the present day and the manager’s office at Cobham training ground has had eight different occupants of seven different nationalities. While football fans have been trying to catch their breath, one specific task in hand has remained a constant, and only one has completed it to Abramovich’s satisfaction, Champions League glory. Success in Europe has always been a must for the Russian; Mourinho was sacked shortly after due to a combination of a deterioration in relationship with Ambramovich and a disappointing group stage draw with Rosenborg.
The following interim manager Avram Grant lost the 2008 final to Manchester United on penalties, with Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti also falling short of great expectations. However, Di Matteo’s case is slightly different. Having beaten Bayern Munich in their back yard to secure the European Cup, the Italian could be forgiven for thinking he might be afforded at least until the end of the following season, but Abramovich does not take prisoners. The defeat in Turin, coupled with previous misery on the road in Donetsk, gave Abramovich ammunition.
No matter how austere Abramovich has appeared in his firing of competent managers, there does, however, appear to be a partial method in his madness. Three months after Luiz Felipe Scolari’s departure, temporary manager Hiddink guided the club to FA Cup success. The Dutchman was then replaced by Ancelotti, who would win the league in his first campaign. Two months after Andre Villas-Boas was sacked Di Matteo’s inherited side would famously beat Bayern.
There is certainly a case for consistency in football; success rarely comes overnight. However, if you have a track record like Abramovich’s, old habits will certainly die hard.