Roberto di Matteo and the managerial game of second chances

I’m writing this before Tuesday night’s Champions League final semi-final second leg, I confess. In all honesty, I’d be surprised if Barcelona didn’t produce a victory by a couple of goals to overturn Chelsea’s first-leg advantage.

And even if that proves to be the case, there should be little issue with the job Roberto di Matteo has done at Stamford Bridge since he filled the multimillion-pound hole left by Andre Villas-Boas.

It surprised me how much of a gamble people thought it was for Di Matteo to be handed the reins, as if he was a complete novice.

In fact, the former Chelsea player impressed as manager at The Hawthorns, taking West Bromwich Albion up with style and making a decent fist of their Premier League return before losing the job that Roy Hodgson became available to take on soon after.

Sure, at Chelsea Di Matteo was taking on world class players and a pressure from the boardroom akin to parenting a demanding child, but it wasn’t as if it was going to be alien to him.


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It seemed a good idea, and while they are still some points short of where they would want to be in the league, it has worked out that way.

Promoting from within can work both ways of course, be it through convenience or talent.

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Brian McDermott was appointed Reading’s chief scout by Alan Pardew in 2000 before being given a stab at managing the first team following Brendan Rodgers’ sacking nine years later.

Next season he will be a top-flight manager, desperate to follow the likes of Rodgers and Paul Lambert. The pressure will be on to achieve it, too.

Compare that with Terry Connor, who joined Wolves as a coach in 1999. In February he went from Mick McCarthy’s number two to Molineux chief. Wolves were relegated on Sunday.

The line is so fine between managerial success and failure. Some people have it, some don’t. Some get the right opportunity to prove it and flourish. Others are tainted, never to return.

It says a lot about Paul Lambert that he had to weather a storm at Livingston, pulling out of the job in a way he hoped would save the club from relegation. That one experience convinced him to end his involvement in Scottish football – and since then, he both earned a took his chances in England.

In fact, looking down the Premier League there are plenty of others who have seen their fortunes fluctuate.

Owen Coyle was widely praised for the job he did at Bolton last season as they seemed destined for a top-10 finish. Their Premier League status for next season remains seriously uncertain.

Alan Pardew is on the brink of turning Newcastle United into a Champions League outfit. Two seasons ago they were playing Championship football. Not too long ago, Pardew was struggling at Charlton and Southampton – while much more recently, no one wanted him at St James’ Park.

Roy Hodgson is another. He got his revenge on Liverpool with West Brom’s win at Anfield on Sunday. He is now at a club appreciating his efforts. And David Moyes’ success at Everton is about more than winning silverware – which admittedly is probably a good thing. The fans know it, too.

The club needs to be right for any manager to perform. It’s as much about chemistry as it is about the players at your disposal.

There isn’t much between good players making a team successful, and having a manager on board that really makes a difference.

Maybe Di Matteo is standing on the deck while his players steer the ship – but it seems to be working, and that will forever be the point.

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