Di Matteo's firing shows working for Chelsea FC isn't easy
Chelsea coach Roberto Di Matteo follows the game during a Champions League soccer match between Juventus and Chelsea in Turin, Italy. Di Matteo was fired Wednesday, one day after another loss in the Champions League has left the team on the brink of elimination. (AP Photo/Daniele Badolato)
Published Wednesday, November 21, 2012 11:02AM EST
LONDON -- With seemingly limitless amounts of money and an insatiable desire for winning titles, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has the makings of being one of the best bosses in football.
A small slip-up here or a tiny miscue there, however, and you better start looking for a new job.
Roberto Di Matteo became the latest Chelsea coach to get the axe on Wednesday, fired only hours after the London club lost to Juventus 3-0 in the Champions League, leaving the defending champions on the brink of elimination from Europe's top competition.
A coach getting fired is certainly nothing new in the world of football, especially after a heavy loss like the rout in Turin. But Di Matteo is the eighth manager to work for Abramovich since he bought the club in 2003, making his soon-to-be-named replacement No. 9 in nine years under the Russian owner.
"The overnight sacking of Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo demonstrates, not decisive leadership, but knee jerk authoritarianism," said Chris Roebuck, a leadership expert at Cass Business School in London. "Yes, in the world of football, as in business, sometimes things don't go the way we want, but a short-term view of life can end up being counterproductive to both long-term performance and revenue generation."
Since Abramovich took over at Chelsea, the team has become a perennial title favourite. In 2005, the Blues won only their second English league title. They repeated a year later, but manager Jose Mourinho was soon fired for poor results in the Champions League -- the title Abramovich so desperately wanted.
Avram Grant replaced Mourinho and led the team to the Champions League final for the first time in club history in 2008. The Blues, however, lost to Manchester United on penalty kicks and Grant was soon out, too.
Other big-name coaches then came and went -- including Luiz Felipe Scolari, Guus Hiddink on an interim basis, Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas -- creating an atmosphere of instability at the club.
Conversely, managers like Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal have stayed put, bringing a sense of consistency to their teams.
Rio Ferdinand, an outspoken defender who has played at United for 10 years, called the decision to fire Di Matteo "madness."
"The stability at our club is something our manager rarely gets praise for...don't under estimate that," Ferdinand wrote on Twitter.
Through all the hirings and firings, Chelsea has continued to perform at the top level on the field, even winning a fourth league title under Ancelotti in 2010. But it was under Di Matteo's leadership -- as the interim manager after Villas-Boas was dismissed late last season -- that things really clicked.
Chelsea first eliminated defending champion Barcelona from the Champions League semifinals and then beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Two weeks later, Abramovich finally got to lift the long sought-after Champions League trophy after a penalty shootout victory over Bayern Munich.
Not long after the win in Munich, the Swiss-born former Italy international Di Matteo was awarded the manager's job on a permanent basis.
"We will never forget the huge contribution (Di Matteo) has made to this club's history and he will always be welcome at Stamford Bridge," Chelsea said Wednesday in a statement on its website.
This season, things started well for Chelsea in the Premier League. The team led the league for much of the season, but has recently dropped to third behind defending champion Manchester City and Manchester United.
In the Champions League, Chelsea is in third place in its four-team group with only one match to go. Although the Blues will be favoured to beat Danish team Nordsjaelland at home on Dec. 5, Chelsea will still be eliminated if Juventus gets at least a draw against already-qualified Shakhtar Donetsk in the other group match.
That put advancement to the knockout round out of Chelsea's hands, and essentially put Di Matteo out of work.
The favourite to replace Di Matteo as manager is Rafa Benitez, who led Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League title and the final in 2007. The Spaniard has been out of coaching since leaving Inter Milan in 2010.
Another possibility is Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach who stepped down at the end of last season after winning three Spanish league titles and two Champions League trophies.
Abramovich is said to be an admirer of Guardiola, who oversaw Barcelona's impressive rise with a passing-based attack that has many calling it the greatest team of all time.
But whoever takes over, it will likely be someone who knows that failure to win both the Premier League and Champions League titles will put his job in immediate danger.
"This unplanned departure now leaves the club rudderless at a critical time and presents a significant challenge in finding a new successor," said Roebuck, the leadership expert. "Who would accept such a role with the chance of being sacked in the middle of the night? This event just goes to confirm the significant dangers of command and control leadership."