How interim is interim? And isn’t any and every manager at Chelsea an Interim Coach, whether he be The Special One, Jose Mourinho, or the curiously employable Aram Grant, currently in charge of yet another major club in the shape of Partizan Belgrade with initially negative results?
Insultingly enough, that nomenclature was consistently applied on the Chelsea team sheets to Roberto Di Matteo, all the way to Wembley and the routing of Spurs, when at last it disappeared. Now, after he has succeeded in dramatically reversing the European tie against Napoli, eliminating Benfica and even, deploying it is true what might be called anti-football at Stamford Bridge, defeating Barcelona, Di Matteo is surely worth giving the managerial role itself.
To go the Nou Camp at this advanced stage of the tournament with a one goal lead was surely a major achievement whatever was to happen there. In such circumstances it was bewildering to see an implicit criticism of Di Matteo, defining his shrewd and successful reorganising of the team as being “political.” As opposed, it seems, to his hapless predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas, whose confused methods were apolitical.
What Di Matteo has done, after early suggestions that John Terry rather than himself was ruling the roost, is to have abandoned Villas- Boas’ over ambitious attempt radically to change Chelsea’s tactics, maintaining a risky high line on the pitch, and eschewing such important veterans as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. Not to mention his crude marginalising of Alex and Anelka both of whom have found profitable employment abroad. If anybody was political it was surely Villas-Boas, evidently trying to do what he thought his impatient owner, Roman Abramovich, wanted; that is to say, to adopt a more attacking stance.
But in football as in life at large, coats have to be cut according to their cloth and it was all too obvious, all too quickly that given the nature of the club’s personnel, Villas Boas strategy was doomed. Had Di Matteo’s approaching been truly “political,” he would presumably have tried to appease Abramovich by continuing to deploy an adventurous but perilously risky system, rather than eschew it.
Mention of Di Matteo and the sad death of Giorgio Chinaglia, brings back all sorts of torrid memories of their mutual Roman club, Lazio, with its core of ferocious fans. When Di Matteo, who was idolised by them, decided that he wanted to leave, the entry phone outside his apartment was vandalised and when he did leave, the car taking him to the airport was blocked in the street by infuriated fans.
One remembers, too, the sad and horrifying fate of Luciano Re Cecconi, a talented midfield player. One day, deciding to play a joke on a jeweller friend, he masked himself, entered the shop brandishing what appeared to be a gun, threatening the jeweller, who promptly pulled out a gun of his own and shot Re Cecconi dead.
On the field, though Chinaglia himself played no part in such excesses, his Lazio team was prone to outrageous behaviour. After the banquet which followed a European match against Arsenal the Lazio players, incited by that notorious Argentine coach, Juan Carlos Lorenzo, attacked the Arsenal players, brawling with them, till they escaped in their coach, just in time, as Chinaglia himself once told me, to evade a horde of approaching Lazio fans.
Worse still was the behaviour at the Olimpico of the Lazio players (Chinaglia innocent again) in a European match against Ipswich Town, whose men they attacked, possibly drugged, on the field. In the tunnel after the final whistle, Giuseppe Wilson, half English Lazio captain, knocked down Ipswich keeper David Best and was viciously kicking him, till the Town manager, Bobby Robson, hailed him off.
In the first leg at Portman Road, Ipswich striker David Johnson was brutally kicked in the genitals and, he told me, subjected to a horribly painful operation. At the Olimpico, Lazio subs on the bench patted their groins mockingly each time that Johnson went past them. Happy days.