THERE was a moment caught on TV cameras that reveals the tension that existed between Roman Abramovich and Roberto Di Matteo and which meant the now former Chelsea manager was always on borrowed time even at the moment of his greatest triumph.
It shows Di Matteo walking up the steps at the Allianz Arena in Munich after the Champions League final in May to be greeted by the Russian billionaire.
Di Matteo shouts “I did it” in celebration of winning the trophy – except that delirious moment of celebration was a little too aggressive for the Chelsea owner and a little too revealing of the mounting frustration the Italian felt going into that match.
“I did it,” was not what Abramovich wanted to hear but it betrayed his employee’s emotions.
That night Di Matteo telephoned a friend to admit he did not expect to be at Chelsea any longer and that he had effectively said his goodbyes; that he had grown weary by the delay in whether he would be confirmed as manager.
He knew he was not first choice and he knew the courtship of Pep Guardiola had started again. In the early hours of yesterday morning, Di Matteo was saying those goodbyes again except this time he knew he would definitely no longer be at Chelsea.
Di Matteo had made the final journey back to the club’s training ground to collect his car, after the sombre return from Turin following the chastening 3-0 defeat to Juventus.
Nine months after Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck and chief executive Ron Gourlay had stood in the manager’s room to inform Andre Villas-Boas that he was being dismissed, Di Matteo was informed that he, also, was no longer wanted. He was not surprised.
Given that it was close to 4am he was not afforded the presence of Abramovich – but, then, contrary to claims at the time, although the billionaire had been there to sack Villas-Boas, he had not said anything. Nothing at all.
That’s his style. Di Matteo will leave Chelsea knowing little more about the billionaire than before he worked for the club, having had precious little contact with him and only finding out his thoughts through, largely, indirect sources or through Abramovich’s powerful PA Marina Granovskaia, who sends a regular stream of emails and text messages and who acts as a buffer and also messenger.
There were misgivings from Abramovich the moment he was persuaded not to appoint Rafael Benítez as ¬Villas-Boas’s successor in March, with advisers arguing that, for now, a former player such as Di Matteo, Gianfranco Zola or Glenn Hoddle was needed and the former was already in the dugout.
The club needed to be stabilised, the crowd would get behind one of their favourites – it was not time for the upheaval Benítez would bring.
There were misgivings throughout the Champions League campaign – more than once the word used was lucky – especially as, at the same time, Chelsea fell to sixth in the league. The feeling continued in the summer.
Chelsea have been humiliated in the European Super Cup, a trophy Abramovich wanted to win, by Atlético Madrid, then by Shakhtar Donetsk, owned by one of Abramovich’s friends, in the Champions League and further when Premier League form stuttered – culminating in Saturday’s defeat at West Bromwich Albion after which the owner told Chelsea executives that he did not want Di Matteo taking the team to Turin.
Again he was persuaded otherwise; again it was a stay of execution rather than a reprieve.
As Di Matteo boarded a bus to transport him to Gatwick’s South Terminal early yesterday, after the Chelsea charter flight had returned from Italy, he stood alone looking into the middle distance anticipating what was about to unfold.
A few yards away, Fernando Torres, the man dropped for Di Matteo’s final team, perched on a suitcase, iPhone clamped to his ear. It stayed there throughout the journey, and if there was anyone on the other end they were doing all the talking; the Spaniard’s lips barely moved.
As a metaphor for Di Matteo’s final days it was apt. An underperforming, over-indulged player ignored his manager safe in the know¬ledge that he was apparently still accountable only to the owner, not to the man paid to take the difficult decisions.
Six months and a day after winning the Champions League, Di Matteo was relieved of the responsibility of those decisions. He had taken almost an hour after the end of the Juventus match to appear for television interviews and a press conference, and it is understood that he spoke to his family and agent in that time. His agent will today finalise a severance ¬package although that will amount to continue paying him on a monthly basis until the break in his contract in June.
The defeat in Turin was not decisive and it may have robbed Di Matteo of one more match – at most – against Manchester City this Sunday. He was going, come what may. Abramovich had already given up on him. According to well-placed sources it went even further than that with Abramovich never actually appearing to show any liking for Di Matteo who was always little more than a caretaker. There was never any rapport and now there doesn’t need to be.
Jason Burt and Paul Kelso Telegraph.co.uk