The news, when it came, was as unsurprising as it was exasperating
Chelsea may have led the Premier League for most of the season, shown as much swagger as anyone over the first quarter and remain the defending champions of both the Champions League and FA Cup, but just one of their last five managers has finished the season that he started.
A league title, three FA Cups and a Champions League in the five seasons since Jose Mourinho’s fairly lengthy stint ended would be a fair return for most clubs, and by any standards does not warrant the termination of a fifth managerial contract.
Roberto Di Matteo clearly has every right to feel aggrieved, particularly as he has generally delivered the exciting brand of football which Roman Abramovich has supposedly demanded from his team since Mourinho’s dour approach brought back-to-back Premier League trophies. Watching as a neutral on Tuesday night, Chelsea were as great a delight in the first half as Juventus, and could have earned a result had they finished one of several spectacular chances. Instead they were wasteful, and Juventus class overwhelmed them.
Fernando Torres’ omission was the big talking point, yet few could fault Di Matteo’s decision given the Spaniard’s failings of late. In some respects, Di Matteo has paid the price for failing to get the best out of a striker whose confidence was already shot when the manager arrived. Fernando Torres was always going to be under enormous pressure to justify the outlandish amount of money paid for him by Chelsea, and that pressure grew when he became the only proven striker at the club after Didier Drogba was allowed to leave.
Yet even if we were to make peace with the decision to sack Di Matteo based on the past, it is baffling in the context of the future. Abramovich must surely realise that at some point he must bring stability to the club - not only has it served rivals Manchester United, but it has also brought success to the Blues under Mourinho.
But instead of stability, another manager has been installed in the short term, and in the long term there can be little more than hope that the main target, Pep Guardiola, will join next year. If he does not, then the terms of interim coach Rafa Benitez’s contract do not suggest that he has the full confidence of Chelsea’s owner.
Last month, in a story which could only make one think of Chelsea, Mbabane Swallows chairman Victor “Maradona” Gamedze denied that his management style qualified as “interference in football matters”, saying: “Who in his right mind in this world would make an investment then allow others to take care of it without any input? Coaches cannot be given leeway to mess with the team lineup.”
Given Abramovich’s level of meddling, perhaps if Guardiola can not be cajoled into managing Chelsea at the end of his season-long sabbatical, the owner will finally stop beating around the bush and take up the managerial reins himself.
The pursuit of Guardiola in itself could be questioned though. He had huge success at Barcelona and is highly spoken of by all who have known and worked with him, yet at the Nou Camp he had the benefit of intricate knowledge of the club from his playing days, as well as a conveyor belt of supremely talented young players coming through the ranks.
The system in place at Chelsea can hardly be compared to the one that helped Guardiola build one of the greatest club teams that football has seen, and there is certainly no guarantee that he could replicate his Barcelona achievements in London.
If the last five years have been unpredictable for Chelsea, the future looks even less certain.