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Is Roberto Di Matteo really worthy of high praise from the Press?

While The Blues are set to deal with their ‘unfinished business’ against Barcelona two days time from now (see the latest soccer bets for the semifinal), English media has been busy ushering praises for Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo for turning the pernicious tide.

Indeed, he has done a remarkable job. Being the deputy of a man who had a look of gaunt, nervous bouncing and roaring animated in delight and reverting back to uncomfortable postures in frustration – he couldn’t do anything except passing on timely routine info that hardly mattered to the Portuguese.

But, things have changed. Chelsea are a different team now under their club hero. Results have improved considerably and Chelsea not only just one victory away from entering the Allianz Arena in May but also can pip Spurs from the fourth spot who are fading like an anemic patient.

The Londoners were straying in dark holes under Villas-Boas. Di Matteo is a welcome relief for them. Brazilian midfielder Ramires said before the second leg tie against Benfica that the boss has instilled great confidence amongst them. Results have improved and hence he must receive all the accolades.

He has instilled positive belief. He understands the pulse of the club and maintains a dressing room harmony. His case is different from other interim managers at Chelsea. He is very popular amongst the fans, unlike Avram Grant. He might not be a tactical guru like Hiddink, but deploys effective style of management.

But, really, how much credit you can give to Di Matteo for turning the tide? What has changed drastically at Chelsea apart from results (though ultimately it is a result oriented world)? Regular followers of Chelsea would agree that there is hardly any improvement in the style of play. Yes, there has been a tweak in formation, but does the overall style of the game has improved? Has he been a mastermind while dealing with the tactics?

Nah…

Improvements in result in an eye wash. When Roy Hodgson was replaced by Kenny Dalglish last January, Liverpool progressed in terms of climbing the league ladder. But, close observers will say, the Reds’ style of play has been hell lot of different. For that matter, take the incident of Hiddink’s reign at Chelsea. They were very attractive to watch and the sea-change in approach was easily visible.

Similar sort of things can’t be said about Di Matteo. They were not impressive against Benfica and other teams in the Premier League. Though in most of the occasions have found a way to victory but that can largely go down to the determination of the players.

Thus, he is not the man to tap the unknown depths of resolve. The fact is, Chelsea players have taken it to their ego. They are fighting for their lives. They are fighting for respect and they are fighting against the media too.

A lot has been said about dressing room disharmony. Senior players were blamed to a large extent for Villas-Boas’ departure. Players felt that they had a carte blanche to engage into a mutiny. The inflated and over indulged egos aka Chelsea players took press as a medium to nullify such rumors.

These players now have to justify their actions. They can only do it by performing well. After all, these players are world class in their own right. They have to prove AVB wrong. They have to prove the media wrong.

To back my argument, have you ever seen, ever, any player of any team giving instructions, that too in a Champions League match in front of his manager?

You can say Terry is the father figure at Chelsea, he is a leader.

Fine, then Keane, Vieira were not leaders? They would have dreaded to think of doing something in presence of Ferguson or Wenger.

Then, how can we say, Di Matteo has earned instant respect from the Chelsea team? The captain feels like he is the de-facto manager, giving a damn care about the bald man’s presence – then are we to believe that the caretaker man is actually doing anything?

That shows, Chelsea players hardly care who the manager is. They know they can fight as a unit. They know they have to.

Basically Di Matteo has lifted the tension by not messing with the egos of senior players. If he had commanded respect, then John Terry wouldn’t have been barking on the touchline. Just like Chelsea players fought as a unit under Avram Grant’s reign, here also they are fighting for their own cause. Di Matteo is just an objective co-relative.

Well, Roberto Di Matteo can make history as Chelsea boss, if his team can win the Champions League in Germany. Otherwise, he might be remembered as another good-but-not-spectacular interim manager. Though finishing second then was a crime, same doesn’t apply nowadays. But, kudos to the senior Chelsea guys. You deserve a bow…

Follow Saikat Mandal on twitter @Saikat_SAnchor

Tue 17 April, 2012
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