As reported here at 7500 to Holte, Roberto Di Matteo is the current bookies' favourite to take over the AVFC managerial hotseat, and is also believed to be the potential new Chinese ownership group’s ideal choice too, with the Birmingham Mail reporting he’s had discussions with the consortium.The question on many fellow Villans' lips is therefore a simple one - is he the right man for the job?
Born in Switzerland, Di Matteo began his footballing career in the country of his birth, playing for Schaffhausen, Zurich and Aarau before heading south to Serie A, joining Lazio in 1993. After three seasons in Rome, he moved to London, where he played for Chelsea until his retirement due to injury in 2002. In his playing career, he also amassed 34 Italy caps, representing his nation at the 1996 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup Finals.
On the 2nd July 2008, the Italian took his first managerial role, replacing Paul Ince at MK Dons. Alongside his future longtime assistants Eddie Newton and Ade Mafe he guided the franchise to a third place finish in League One, missing out on automatic promotion by just two points, and with a superior goal difference to Peterborough. His side scored the second most goals and conceded the second fewest, only behind Leicester City (who were managed by Nigel Pearson) on both counts. He could not translate the third place finish into playoff success, however, and went out in the semi-finals to Scunthorpe in the playoffs after his signing Tore Andre Flo missed the decisive final penalty.
This performance earned him the manager role at West Brom that summer, who had just finished dead last in the Premier League. He guided the Sandwell club to a second place finish in the championship (behind a Newcastle side that really never should have gone down), securing automatic promotion to the Premier League with three games still to play, despite only a few transfers to support him.
The next season, however, didn't go so smoothly. Despite winning Premier League Manager of the Month for September, he was removed as Head Coach after a run of 13 defeats in his last 18 games in the Premier League, with his side sitting but two points above the relegation zone.
Following an unsuccessful attempt to take over at another West Midlands based club the former Italian international joined Chelsea as assistant to Andre Villas-Boas.
After the Portuguese's sacking, Di Matteo was appointed caretaker manager until the end of the season. Having brought in his usual assistant Eddie Newton, he proceeded to tighten up the Chelsea defence, abandoning AVB's high line in favour of a more traditional two-banks-of-four approach. Despite finishing fifth in the league, Di Matteo guided his side to Champions League qualification for the following season by winning the thing, seeing off Barcelona twice -the second time with 10 men for half the game. He followed this up with a victory after penalties over Bayern Munich (in their own stadium!) and won the FA Cup to boot. Following this star-studded end to the season, Roman Abramovich appointed the former Chelsea midfielder permanent manager, which was to last all the way until the 21st of November when he relieved of his duties despite a bright start due to struggles in the Champions League.
In October 2014, Di Matteo was handed the role of Manager at Schalke 04, after they sacked Jens Keller. Despite a bright start (winning 6 of his first 9) a midseason slump ended their Champions League ambitions, and his side finished sixth, 13 points shy of the top four. Despite only winning twice and including a nil-five thumping at home to his former club, he did guide his side to the round of 16 in the Champions League, where they managed to pull off a 4-3 win at the Bernabeu, but it was in vain thanks to a 2-0 defeat in the previous leg. Following this frustrating season, the Italian resigned three days following the conclusion of the Bundesliga campaign, claiming differences between his and the board's ambitions.
Certainly a rich and varied CV, and one which includes one of the most storied triumphs in the modern history of Europe’s highest club honour, but Di Matteo continues to split opinion - particularly concerning whether or not he’s appropriate to bully our struggling squad back up into the Premier League. Whilst not certain, it is highly likely that some of this squad’s more vocal personalities (Lescott, Richards, Agbonlahor) will leave over the summer, which instantly helps break up some of the cliques within the squad. Further, he did (to some extent) successfully deal with some of the biggest egos in football in the shapes of Terry, Drogba and Hazard at Chelsea (some even claim his is by far the biggest), so that is worth considering. Just because he hasn’t ever throttled an opposition player on the sideline doesn’t mean he’s incapable of dealing with forceful personalities.
There are conflicting accounts over how the Champions League winner is as a man manager, with West Brom fans claiming he is aloof and leaves much of the work on the training ground to Eddie Newton and his assistants (this aloofness is believed by Baggies fans to be the reason for his sacking), but journalists suggest he was highly communicative with members of his squad when he was at Chelsea.
Eddie Newton is also an issue. Conspicuous with his absence at Schalke last season, the former Chelsea player is currently supervising the Chelsea youth sides and is highly thought of within the game. As previously mentioned, assistant managers matter, so should Newton not follow his usual colleague to the Villa there would certainly be cause for alarm.
His style of play also leads to some confusion. At Chelsea, playing with two banks of four in defence and freedom to roam in attack won the FA Cup and Champions League trophies, but this same almost overly defensive style caused problems at Schalke, with fans growing tired of this overly respectful approach, which often left forwards isolated. On the other hand, the second half of his tenure at Chelsea was in plentiful supply of free-flowing attacking football, especially against inferior sides, and his West Brom and MK Dons sides were both second-top scorers in their divisions. Interestingly, his Baggies side was somewhat porous in defence, conceding an unusually high 48 goals (cf. Newcastle who concede 35, 7th placed Swansea who conceded 37).
Something else that may be either a blessing or a curse is he has often worked under a director of football type model, under Dan Ashworth at West Brom, with Michael Emenalo at Chelsea and Horst Heldt in Gelsenkirchen and as such would likely not be at odds with working with Damien Comolli (discussed here) in a similar role at B6.
Finally, he has never publicly confessed his beliefs that certain journalists are in fact possessing of avian nature, so that’s a plus.
It’s difficult to be conclusive here, as much is uncertain. He isn’t as experienced at Championship level as his leading contender is, but what experience he has had has proved to be successful. There are certainly question marks over his potential as a long-term candidate, having never spent more than around a year and a half anywhere. With the exception of his unsuccessful spell at Schalke, he has generally also taken over clubs in a relative position of strength - Dan Ashworth crafting the side at West Brom, AVB underachieving with a vastly experienced and talented Chelsea side, and as such has never displayed the tenacity to revive a struggling club in the same manner to that which Pearson did at Leicester. Further, that he may not be able to bring Newton with him is a concern.
If he is the man to lead Aston Villa’s Great Leap Forward, one can only hope he will be more successful than the last man to hold the reins with a Champions League title on his CV.
Up the Villa
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