On a day when rumours that Fabio Capello could become the next manager of Chelsea no matter what the result in this weekend’s Champions League final reached a crescendo in Milan, the current Italian incumbent at Stamford Bridge made sure he gave absolutely nothing away about his own future.
Roberto Di Matteo is in the uncomfortable position of knowing that even becoming the first manager in Chelsea’s history to win the European Cup may not be enough to earn him the job he craves so badly; especially now former England manager Capello, targeted by owner Roman Abramovich once before, is being heavily linked with the role by those in his own country.
So at a slightly uncomfortable Champions League final press conference at Cobham yesterday the Chelsea interim manager showed a straight bat to every question fired at him and barely managed a sentence of more than eight or nine words all afternoon.
Capello famously once said he needed to learn only a few words of English to manage the England national team; but Di Matteo appears to have a slightly different tactic. He has taken the art of Twitter to new lengths by sticking to the ‘140 character’ rule in verbal as well as written replies.
The only time he cracked a smile was when asked if he would consider returning to his former club West Brom now there is a managerial vacancy there. “In my life I’ve gone back to an ex girlfriend and it didn’t work out. So I don’t think it’s the right move,” he said.
Di Matteo did have something to smile about later, however, when defenders David Luiz and Gary Cahill both came through training unscathed on their return from injury and look set to be fit for Saturday’s game against Bayern in Munich — crucial when you consider that John Terry, Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles are all suspended.
Winger Florent Malouda remains a doubt — he was unable to train yesterday — but even so the biggest concern ahead of the trip to Germany seems to be Di Matteo’s future, a situation he has tried desperately to avoid.
“I’m a club person. I feel very responsible for the football club. I don’t think about myself. What is at stake is we have a chance to bring the European title home for the first time in this club’s history, and that’s all that is important,” he said.
“My future? I’m very relaxed about it. I have a big drive and a big motivation to do something extraordinary for this club. That’s all I want to do. Whatever comes afterwards, there’s always a reason why things happen.”
The general consensus in a room of over 200 journalists was that this was the performance of a man who knew he was losing the race to become manager long-term but who was determined to go out a high; but with Chelsea, and their notoriously impetuous owner, you can never be sure.
What Di Matteo can control, however, is how his team approach the final safe in the knowledge that if he guides them to victory — as the first London club ever to win a European Cup — he will leave an incredible legacy that could dramatically change the club for years to come.
“If we can do it then it’s going to be a first. The first one for the club. You’d join an elite of clubs who have won it before, and everything else that is connected with winning such a big trophy.
“I’d be absolutely delighted to win the Champions League trophy for this club, and very happy for the players. We’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and we’ve tried many times to reach this goal. I don’t think about myself, it’s not important.”
There are a few Chelsea players who disagree with that because Di Matteo has huge support from inside the squad and has demonstrated not only an ability to man-manage high profile players during his time in charge but also an ability to master the tactical demands of top level European football, especially against Napoli at home and Barcelona away.
The only problem if he wants to add the ultimate prize to his CV is overcoming the loss of four suspended players and coping with the possibility that several injured stars could also suffer a relapse before Saturday, leaving him with real problems against a Bayern side who will be playing in their own stadium.
“I’ve been trying different options in training for different solutions just in case,” he said. “Because it’s just a one-off game, this is different. This will be one shot and, with all the problems we have, it’s causing me a headache. It’s going to be difficult. But to reach the final was a difficult road as well, so we have to be confident and believe we can do it.”
It’s a very Italian outlook — and after Roberto Mancini won the Premier League for Manchester City this season that’s no bad thing.
The only question is will Chelsea still have an Italian manager next season — and if so, which one?
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