Sunday 4 December 2016

'He's always been good to me'- One of Chelsea's many sacked managers holds no grudge against Roman Abramovich

Tom Rooney

Published 24/04/2016 | 15:35

Roberto Di Matteo after winning the Champions League as Chelsea manager.
Roberto Di Matteo after winning the Champions League as Chelsea manager.

Of all the Chelsea managers cast aside by Roman Abramovich since assuming ownership of the club in 2003, perhaps none could feel more aggrieved than Roberto Di Matteo but, strangely, the genial Italian holds no grudges.

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With the exception of Real Madrid, there is no cub among the European elite less forgiving of managers than Chelsea.

Even those who have steered the club to league titles, Champions and Europa League glory, have found that silverware, ostensibly football’s hardest currency, buys them little leeway from the mysterious Russian plutocrat who signs their cheques.

Case in point Roberto Di Matteo. The 45-year-old was thrust into the position on an interim basis in March of 2012, following Andre Villa-Boas’ inevitable dismissal.

It must be said that the former full-back inherited a side in relatively strong form, however, in just over eight weeks, he guided the Blues to an FA Cup final win over Liverpool, before securing the only Champions League trophy of the Abramovich era by accounting for Bayern Munich via penalty shootout.

Thereafter Di Matteo signed a two year permanent deal but, by November when Chelsea failed to qualify out of the Champions League group stages, he was unemployed.

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Given that he was also a beloved former player, and then succeeded by Rafael Benitez, the Stamford Bridge faithful responded unfavourably, to say the least. However, for him, it was all just part of the game.

“Obviously you look at the history and it's not just with me, that's the way it is and you can be critical about that or not”' he told Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday.

 “The fact is they have won so many trophies and had so much success you could argue that it has worked for them.”'

“I actually had a great relationship and I can't say a bad word about him, he has been always very good to me, apart from the last part of it, but otherwise I have no bad words.”

Of course, this season saw Jose Mourinho’s affair with the club end for a second time, as Chelsea’s title defence was all but over by Halloween and rumours of personal conflicts within the set-up circulated with greater frequency.

Guus Hiddink, once again, was called upon to take the wheel on a temporary basis and the side have largely plodded along since.

Italy coach and former Juventus boss Antonio Conte will take the reins following the European Championships, becoming  Chelsea’s 11th manager since Claudio Ranieri departed in May 2004.

Di Matteo is confident that his compatriot will restore Chelsea as the force of old and replenish the trophy cabinet sooner rather than later.

“He's a great manager, he's very well prepared,' said Di Matteo. 'He has been very successful at Juventus, he's doing a good job with the Italian national team. I think he will be successful. He's got a great chance, obviously there's a kind of a new era starting probably at Chelsea next year.

“They will have to start and rebuild somehow this team to be successful for the next five or 10 years. So I think he's got a nice, difficult job, but he's got a nice job,” he said.

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