Right off the bat, here’s the problem with Roberto Di Matteo’s appointment as Chelsea manager: If Chelsea really wanted him and were comfortable with him to carry on where he left off last season, wouldn’t they have offered him a new contract as soon as his victory lap in the Allianz Arena was done?
Yes there was the public courting of Pep Guardiola by Chelsea—someone who could do a lot of good with the attacking players on offer at Stamford Bridge. But it’s become such a tired response that the former Barcelona manager genuinely wants a year out of the game. Everyone seems to understand it except a select few.
It is plain to see that the obvious selection for the managers job is Di Matteo. However, that’s not because he’s somehow managed to slip himself into the category only reserved for the royals of football management—because he really hasn’t. Instead, it’s to ensure that this group of Chelsea players can play in a system that works for them and that they’re willing to go ahead with. Namely, it’s the old guard at the club, rather than the new wave of players who are entering this summer.
But at what stage does that start to become a problem. At no point last season under Di Matteo did Chelsea look like a club who could play an attacking brand of football that suits their new recruits. Instead, the football was tailored to what the older players are used to. They thrived off of it and even got a helping hand from players such a Juan Mata and Fernando Torres. But that level of play was successful for the short term with the prize within reach. Over a 38-game league season, there’s little doubt that Chelsea may run into similar problems as they did last season.
There’s obviously a good level of appreciation the club’s hierarchy should have with Di Matteo, it’s understandable considering what he achieved last summer. But his appointment as permanent manager—even if it is only for one season—greatly contrasts the level of spending and the type of player Chelsea have targeted this summer.
Eden Hazard is one of the finest young attacking players on the continent, but there’s no chance he will stand for the type of tactics that Chelsea favoured last season. Likewise, Oscar has been touted as one of Brazil’s leading attacking midfielders, and one who performed exceptionally well for his national team in recent friendlies. But again, he is not a player who buys into the playing philosophy of defend for an extended period of time and then grab a goal on the counter. Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Marin and whomever else Chelsea decide to add to their impressive squad this summer will eventually come to work well together, comfortably able to implement the attacking football that Roman Abramovich wants. But where and why does Di Matteo come into play?
If his appointment was to oversee a transition from one group to another then you can somewhat understand. However, the playing styles and abilities of both sets of players are so noticeably differing that somewhere along the line it will simply clash. It’s ok to find a balance between youthful attacking flair and an experienced, no nonsense approach. However, the club need to complement one with the other, not try and force both styles to work perfectly.
That’s where the other problems arise. If Chelsea do follow through with the Oscar transfer and bring him to the club, what happens with Frank Lampard? If he does have a place in the Starting XI then what about Hazard, Marin and even Kevin de Bruyne? Rotation and a strong bench is always good, but will any of these players stand for being labelled a “back-up” to those regularly on the pitch.
Again, Di Matteo has done very little to warrant a description as one of Europe’s top managers. With Abramovich there’s always the possibility of a dismissal at some stage in the season, so what if Di Matteo can’t make this Chelsea squad work next season?
If the club were looking to continue with a squad of experienced players and one which is dominated by the old guard, then the Italian stands firm as the best choice for manager. But the club are really trying to establish themselves as something of an exciting product in English football with their transfer business. It’s just increasingly unclear how Chelsea’s new group of players will find success with a manager who is tailoring the club’s on-field approach to suit a contrasting style.