DISCLAIMER: This post turned out to be the absolute best reverse jinx in history.
It’s good to be Roberto Di Matteo these days, but I didn’t see it at first.
I thought he’d only be lamb to the Russian slaughter, because he’d be an utter failure as interim manager of Chelsea FC–a seat as warm as any in the world of soccer.
But really, he’s already successful just by replacing AVB at the helm of the club. If he’s good enough for the rest of the season, which bodes well after the 4-1 Champions League victory over Napoli, Di Matteo might even parlay this little cameo with Chelsea into a long-lasting Premiership League gig. Winning, they call it.
But that gig wouldn’t be at Chelsea, because Di Matteo is a small name–and Abramovitch doesn’t do small.
This season has been rough for Chelsea FC fans, and has in many ways been the demise of a once-proud franchise. There’s really two ways to go about it: Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Or, just when I thought I had had way too many blues that I couldn’t take any more bad news–still they came, in the form of Andre Villas Boas’s sacking on March 4, 2012.
I was never much of a soccer fan growing up, but I would watch the occasional game on television. I would also turn to my Brazilian roots every four years for the World Cup, ever since Roberto Baggio roofed it. But league soccer? That took more time, probably until 2004 with the arrival of Mourinho and his I-don’t-give-an-eff-about-you-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-say-as-much attitude.
(I like to think, eventually, that if I ever became a fan it’s because I matured–but the jury is still probably out on this.)
Regardless of how it happened, I became a fan of soccer. I like the sport, but there are still many things that I hate. The low scores–a 0-0 tie is compelling, but only to a point. The running time–because it would make too much sense to stop the clock when the ball goes out of play. The faking (or not) of injuries, which shows a clearly different attitude than most in North American can accept. Theconstant bickering of referees’ decisions. Soccer is sometimes hard to love, but I still love it.
And once you love it, you appreciate its magic. There is no other sport, except for tennis, that combines grace and power on every move. Soccer is like a giant game of chess. And for a time, in 2004 and beyond, nobody played chess better than José Mário dos Santos Mourinho Félix–the highlight, of course, being the back-to-back Premier League titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 at Chelsea FC. Since 2002, Mourinho hasn’t gone a calendar year without at least one trophy–not many can say the same.
That said, there were a few heartaches to go along with all the success–and none looms larger than the 2008 Champions League final defeat, 6-5 on penalties against rival Manchester United. Everything had broken perfectly in the penalties, meaning that if Chelsea had a chance to take home the trophy it was due to a poor miss by hated Cristiano Ronaldo. But then John Terry slipped and missed his kick, Frenchman Nicolas Anelka’s shot was stopped by ManU keeper Edwin van der Sar and Chelsea lost. And my heart sunk.
The only consolation I take from this sad, sad turn of events is that this loss probably burns even more for Abramovitch, who has left little doubt as to which trophy he’s most intensely pursuing.
But Mourinho left Stamford Bridge in 2008 after having won 70 percent of his matches, and the search for the next great precocious manager is yet to be completed by Abramovitch. Mourinho’s time was up then, and Di Matteo’s time is apparently now. In his short time as Chelsea’s manager, Di Matteo has been excellent–making sure the team qualified for the quarterfinals of this year’s Champions League. But really, his biggest exploit remains having ensured that Torres find the back of the net again. Twice. Is this the end of the Fernando Torres saga? Most likely not, but he has done good in Di Matteo’s little time.
At the time of this blog post, Chelsea sits fifth in the Premier League table, meaning that the club wouldn’t qualify for the Champions League next year if the 2011 season were finished. If you’re Roberto Di Matteo though, you don’t care because you’re playing with Roman Abramovitch’s money–and it’s not like you’ll still be Chelsea manager once the new season starts anyway.