Barcelona boss is the Blues' top managerial target and announced on Friday that he will step down at the end of the season to take a break footballCOMMENT
By Greg Stobart
When Roberto Di Matteo was asked to step in after Chelsea sacked Andre Villas-Boas, the word ‘interim’ in his job title made it perfectly clear that the Italian was considered as a stop-gap until the end of the season.
While the announcement on Friday that Pep Guardiola is stepping down as Barcelona coach might seem like an opportunity for Chelsea, in truth it strengthens Di Matteo's hand as he makes his case to be named the club's permanent manager.
Even as he masterminded the Blues' passage to the Champions League final on a sensational night in Barcelona on Tuesday, Di Matteo would have known that he was no higher than third on the club’s managerial shortlist.
That is because Roman Abramovich knows what he wants and is reluctant to offer the role to anyone else while he feels there is still a possibility of luring Guardiola to Stamford Bridge.
That's understandable. Who better if you are looking to replicate a Barcelona side that has won 13 trophies in four years under the 41-year-old, including two Champions League triumphs and three Liga titles?
Guardiola’s decision to resign will immediately set the wheels in motion on west London as they make a move for the much coveted and highly admired coach.
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But, in reality, the Blues are fighting a losing battle as Guardiola has decided to take a year away from the game.
"I never met with Roman Abramovich nor any Chelsea representative," Guardiola said on Friday.
"I'm not interested in coaching now. My desire is to do other things. Maybe sometime in the future I will go back to a bench, but I don't know at the moment."
All the Russian roubles in the world would not make a difference to a man who simply feels he needs a break and wants to explore other interests.
If he's too drained to manage Barcelona, what would he make of the challenge that would face him at Chelsea?
So the developments in Catalunya will actually take Di Matteo a step closer to becoming the permanent Chelsea boss as a rival candidate gets crossed off the list, forcing Abramovich to look elsewhere.
Jose Mourinho, the other leading candidate, has ruled out a return to his former club and insisted he will stay at Real Madrid for at least one more year after they lost their Champions League semi-final to Bayern Munich on penalties on Wednesday night.
If the two standout candidates are not available, that leaves Di Matteo pitted against a B-list including the likes of Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc.
Does Abramovich really consider them as preferable to Di Matteo? It’s hard to tell with a man who has consistently made poor decisions regarding his managers, from sacking Mourinho and Ancelotti to the appointments of Villas-Boas Luiz Felipe Scolari.
Di Matteo has made a compelling case with a remarkable turnaround in his 15 games in charge, losing only once and taking the Blues to two finals.
He has built a team spirit and organisation that was embodied in the backs-to-the-wall performance at Camp Nou on Tuesday night and has received public backing from senior players.
Chelsea’s chief executive, Ron Gourlay, continues to assert that no decision will be made until the end of the season, adding it is “too early to say” whether Di Matteo is a viable candidate.
By then, Chelsea could be European champions and FA Cup holders. The mere fact that they have the opportunity after such a tumultuous campaign is testament to the job Di Matteo has done.
Di Matteo may be third on a shortlist of three, but with Guardiola and Mourinho out of the equation, Abramovich should not think twice about changing ‘interim’ to ‘permanent’.
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