When Roberto Di Matteo took over the job as caretaker manager of Chelsea, he inherited a side that was staring Champions League elimination in the face.
A 3—1 defeat in March in the first leg of the round of 16 match at Napoli was virtually the final nail in the coffin of manager Andre Villas—Boas and the Portuguese was sacked shortly afterwards.
After being refused permission to talk to Wigan’s coach Roberto Martinez, Chelsea opted to give the job to Di Matteo, who was at the time Villas—Boas’ assistant.
Under the guidance of the Italian, Chelsea turned their whole season around, first winning the FA Cup final with a 2—1 victory against Liverpool and on Saturday claiming the biggest prize European football has to offer, the Champions League.
The 4—3 penalty shoot—out victory against Bundesliga club Bayern Munich gave the Blues their first—ever Champions League trophy and finally saw their billionaire Russian owner Roman Abramovich secure the cup he so desperately wanted.
And even though Di Matteo was quick to point his fingers at the players and said they were the ones who secured the success, the former Chelsea player has arguably played the biggest part.
Di Matteo guided the team to a 4—1 victory against Napoli to see them through to the quarter—finals, where they beat Benfica Lisbon, before famously knocking out title holders Barcelona.
The return leg in Spain and the game against Bayern had a clear Di Matteo ring to it — Drogba as the lone striker playing in front of a defensively orientated team.
The 41—year—old defended his tactics in the post—match press conference. “The fans are happy with us. You have to remember that we had four suspended players and you have to try to get the best out of what you have,” he said.
“We managed to do that and that is why we are successful.” Di Matteo, who was born in Switzerland but played internationally for Italy, said that when he took over the team, his first task was to help them get their confidence back.
“I told them that they were world—class players and could not have lost that in a short space of time. They needed to believe in themselves. I worked with them tactically, physically and mentally and this has brought result.” With two cup victories in the space of two weeks, it is hardly surprising that the players have thrown their weight behind Di Matteo and called on him to be kept beyond the season.
“All the players are in favour of him staying manager,” said Nigerian defender John Obi Mikel, adding: “But it is not our call to make.” Captain John Terry, who was one of four players suspended for the final, has also called on the club to keep the Italian. “He has done a fantastic job and we all want him to stay.” With the same humility and modesty that characterized him as a player, Di Matteo steered clear of saying that he wanted the job, even after winning in Munich.
“Whatever the club wants, I will respect,” he said.
“I simply do not know what the future will hold, but I will accept what it brings me. But before anything else, I will go on holiday as I really need it.” He admitted that he only believed in Chelsea’s victory when Didier Drogba — who was Chelsea’s other match—winner on the night — scored the final penalty.
“It was only then that I knew we had made history. It is a huge thing for the club and for the future of this club.” In his moment of triumph, he remembered Villas—Boas, who brought him to Chelsea as his assistant.
“The trophy has to be shared with Andre. He laid the foundation of the team and deserves credit too. I will always be grateful to him for bringing me to the club.”