Tonight’s FA Cup replay with Birmingham will see Robert Di Matteo take the managerial reigns for the first time. The Italian will be the 9th man to take control of a Chelsea game since the arrival of billionaire Russian businessman Roman Abramovich at Stamford Bridge less than 9 years ago.
In that time we’ve seen some of the best and brightest managerial talent in the world struggle under the weight of the owner’s expectation. That expectation is that his side will win the Champions League and it’s an expectation he holds with ultimate conviction every season.
Claudio “The Tinkerman” Ranieri guided Chelsea to 2nd spot, their highest finish in half a century, but he tinkered too much in a Champions League semi-final against Monaco and blew his shot. Jose Mourinho is already one of the most successful managers of all time but despite landing two title in three years, his failure to progress past the semi-finals in Europe let to conflict with the owner and a hefty pay-off. Since the Special One we’ve had World Cup winner Felipe Scolari, the internationally-renowned Guus Hiddink and two-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti all give it a shot. Hiddink was the only one smart enough to cut his time short before Abramovich cut it for him.
When men of experience were unable to land the one prize the owner covets most, he turned to the new Special One. A man who learnt his trade under Mourinho and had even replicated his success with Porto. Andre Villas-Boas was to build a new, exciting Chelsea team. He was to be given the time necessary to undertake this formidable task. Until Chelsea’s Champions League qualification came under threat that is.
So what next for Chelsea? Robert DiMatteo will need to impress from his very first game if he is to stand any chance. He’s 7/1 to be promoted from caretaker manager to the permanent gig. Or as permanent as any Chelsea manager’s tenure can be. It seems unlikely but then the options are limited.
Jose Mourinho heads the betting, with his return to the Bridge currently priced at 9/4. You sense that someone would need to swallow their pride for this to happen and as Abramovich is the one in need, he may have some soul searching to do before this can happen. Some would suggest he’d need to find a soul first but there’s little £13 billion can’t buy you.
So desperate is he to win the Champions League that he may even hire Rafael Benitez. The former Liverpool manager who twice crushed his European dreams at the semi-final stage during his time at Anfield. The Spaniard is the 4/1 second favourite and has been dropping subtle hints that he’s the man for the job.
“I would like to have in the future a top side, a top club that can fight for titles and challenge. My experience is in the Champions League, to challenge and to try and win trophies,” Benitez told Sky News this week.
The ever restless Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola (5/1) may feel in need of a change at the end of the season as may German manager Joachim Loew (11/1) following this summer’s Euro 2012 competition. According to our poll Jose Mourinho is the most likely to return with 32% of the vote but then Paddy Power is the second most likely with 17%, so this may not be the most accurate of barometers.
The attractively high wages will still be on offer for whoever is interested in the job but with the danger that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules could hamstring any big-spending plans it may not simply be a case of flashing the sufficient amount of cash for Roman Abramovich to get his man this time.
Success is the only way to keep the Russian happy and if Roberto DiMatteo wants to keep his name in the hat then nothing short of an impressive win over Birmingham is needed tonight. An embarassing defeat could very well see Eddie Newton picking the team to play Stoke this Saturday.