Chelsea Football Club will one day serve as a backdrop for a motion picture, soAi??intriguingAi??has been the script in the last decade or so. From a mysteriously quiet yet ruthless owner to self-destructiveAi??power struggles, from heart-breaking failures to historic triumphs, the story is surely befitting of a summer blockbuster.

On closer inspection, the present season can be considered to be the third installment of a sub-plot. Twice before in the Roman Abromovich era, Chelsea have sacked their manager in the middle of the campaign, not necessarily for the same reason, and replaced him with an interim boss.

Chapter 1: Avram Grant

The Special One had given Chelsea the most special days in the history of the club; however, with time, cracks had started to appear in his relationship with the owner. In September, 2007, Jose Mourinho left Stamford Bridge after a mutual agreement, and Director of Football, Avram Grant, was handed over the reins until the end of season.

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The unforgettable night in Moscow

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Under Grant, Chelsea fought tooth and nail with Manchester United for the Premier League and UEFA Champions League, and with a little luck on their side, could have achieved the unthinkable. Fight for the Premiership title went till the last match day, with Chelsea needing a win over Bolton, if United were to draw or lose against Wigan. However, Chelsea drew; United won. In Europe, had John Terry not slipped while taking the most important penalty kick in the history of Chelsea, the museum at Stamford Bridge would have had a very special corner, with people queuing up for a glimpse of the trophy with Big Ears. Alas, it was not to be.

Despite what the team almost accomplished that season, the Israeli manager isn’t given a lot of credit for it. Rather, fairly or unfairly, assistant first team coach, Steve Clark, and the players took the plaudits, with the team believed to be running in auto-Jose mode.

Chapter 2: Guus Hiddink

Luiz Felipe Scolari, who’d previously won the World Cup with Brazil, had overseen a disastrous season at Chelsea, and was rightfully sacked. His tactics, inability to handle the dressing room, and laid-back training routines had played their part in his downfall. The Brazilian was replaced, temporarily, by the then Russia coach Guus Hiddink, who on Roman’s request agreed to take over the reins at Chelsea.

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The Dutchman did remarkably well in his short spell in-charge

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Hiddink’s effect on the team was immediate, with The Blues winning fourAi??consecutive league games, including the crucial win away at Aston Villa, a team that had threatened to take the Champions League qualification away from Chelsea. Under Hiddink, the team won 11 of the remaining 13 league games, destroying Arsenal 4-1 at the Emirates in the process and finishing third in the league.

However, another Champions League heartbreak was round the corner, as the club was brutally dumped out of Europe by Barcelona, after referee Tom Henning Ovrebo stood between Chelsea and a rightful spot in the final against Manchester United. There was some joy eventually, as the departing Guus led Chelsea to a FA Cup triumph by prevailing over Everton at the New Wembley.

Chapter 3: Roberto di Matteo

Andre Villas-Boas, the former opposition scout who had taken Porto to glory, was Abromovich’s personal choice at Chelsea. The talented, young manager was entrusted with the project of taking Chelsea into the new era, by replacing the old guard with younger and hungrier players by playing beautiful football. However, despite the best of intentions, Andre failed. With the team repeatedly surrendering with frightening ease and Champion’s League qualification in serious doubt, the Portuguese manager was fired and replaced with club legend, Robbie di Matteo.

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Di Matteo - reigniting the passion!

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In the three matches since, Chelsea have defeated Birmingham to remain in the FA Cup, carved out a precious win over Stoke in the league to ease some pressure, and knocked the dangerous Napoli side out of the Champions League.

Why interim managers work at Chelsea

Manager, after manager, has come in, tried to dismantle the team put together by Jose Mourinho and mold the players to play as per his plans, but failed. Such deeply instilled was theAi??camaraderie, team spirit, togetherness and tactics into these men by Mourinho, that there’s only one way they know, only one way they play; they resist change.

The same reason, which had led toAi??unparalleled success for the club between 2004 and 2007, has contributed to the repeated demise of managers, season after season.

Scolari tried to change; heAi??miserablyAi??failed. Ancelotti tried to change the tactics; he had to return to a style that suited his players to succeed. Villas-Boas tried to shake the very foundation of an immovable object; expectedly, he couldn’t.

In 2007-08, Jose or no Jose, the team played the Jose way. In 2008-09, it took a man of the stature of Hiddink, with exceptional man-management skills, to cleanse the negativity of the Scolari regime by backing the players, putting his faith in them.

It’s late in the day, but the management seems to have unraveled the pattern. When they decided to fire Villas-Boas, they didn’t look for a solution outside of the club. Rather, they decided to trust a man loved and respected by both fans and players. They knew a change is not the need of the present hour, a change will not be embraced. They just removed the manager from the picture altogether.

Di Matteo, with short-term goals and without any fear of being sacked, has a clear agenda; he has to get the best out of the players – fuel their fire, not extinguish it. This is exactly what he seems to be doing, and the results are there for everyone to see.

I’ve been trying to speak to the players individually and focus them on the next task, to try and get [them feeling] the responsibility and make them aware of our targets, to bring a little bit of team spirit back, the spirit of sacrifice and passion for the game“, said Di Matteo.

If Chelsea are to have any kind of stability in future, drastic changes have to be made. There’s no denying the fact. The side built by Mourinho has to be dismantled step by step; if only Jose can do it himself, so be it. However, now is not the time for change. That will come in the summer. The need of the hour is to trust the legends, back them, support them, and let them have a befitting closure at Chelsea. They have earned this right, their flaws notwithstanding.

This is exactly what’s happening under Di Matteo, who knows the pulse of the club – and, suddenly the team is playing with grit, determination, spirit. A desire to play for the shirt has returned within the ranks.

What can the team achieve this season?

In the FA Cup, Chelsea’s next opponents are Leicester City in the quarters, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton still remaining in the competition.

In the Champions League, Chelsea have drawn Benfica in the quarter-finals. If they succeed in the quarters, they would meet either defending European champions Barcelona or Italian champions Milan in the semi-final, with the winner going on to take on either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid in the final at the Allianz Arena, in all likelihood.

In the Premier League, Chelsea, who are 3 points behind Arsenal, are yet to play Manchester City, Arsenal, and Liverpool away, while Tottenham are still to come to Stamford Bridge. Next up is a trip to the Etihad, before facing Spurs at home.

These are indeed tough yet fascinating days for the club, as it fights on all three fronts and against quality opposition. Di Matteo has a fully-fit squad and an in-form, motivated team at his disposal; it remains to be seen, however, whether he can achieve the targets that are desired of him.

The previous two chapters, despite finishing on a happier note in England, ended in tears in Europe. Today, Chelsea players, together with their manager, have a chance to shape their own destiny, to write the final few lines of this chapter. Sooner rather than later, the page will be turned; a change will have to be embraced.

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3 Responses to “Chelsea’s Corner: From Avram Grant To Roberto Di Matteo – Mystery Surrounding The Interim Manager”

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  1. Rahul Bhutani says:

    Follow the Indian football Debate by the HardTackle’s Resident Authors and contribute your opinions as well
    http://www.thehardtackle.com/2012/tht-debates-is-savio-medeira-right-to-demand-a-one-international-striker-only-clause-in-the-i-league/

  2. Great post. I used to be checking continuously this blog and I’m inspired! Extremely helpful info specially the last section :) I deal with such info a lot. I used to be looking for this certain info for a long time. Thanks and best of luck.

  3. Shivam says:

    This is some mystery :D. but for once i think the manager was at fault. avb’s man management was close to nil and tactically too, except for that one match v qpr, he didnt seem too sound either.