He took over a disillusioned, demoralized club and led them to Champions League and FA Cup glory in less than three months. Six months later, Roberto Di Matteo was fired by Chelsea; and 686 days later, he finally has a new job.
For a man who’s notoriously low-key and undramatic — attending one of his press conferences is the most effective way to tranquilize a sports journalist — the 44-year-old Swiss-born former Italy international has led a turbulent managerial career.
In 2009 he led West Bromwich Albion into the Premier League. That September, he was named the league’s manager of the month, but the following February, he was canned even though the team was not in the relegation zone.
In 2012, he turned up at Chelsea, one of his former clubs, as assistant to Andre Villas-Boas. When the Portuguese was axed, Di Matteo was appointed interim coach. He was only supposed to be keeping the seat warm for a more illustrious name, but after winning the FA Cup and the Champions League — the trophy that owner Roman Abramovich craves even more than he craves yachts the length of city blocks — there was little option other than to give Di Matteo the full-time role — almost a month after the Champions League title. But suspicions that the club hierarchy never really believed in him and felt his triumphs were mainly down to luck and an experienced squad were confirmed 12 league games into the next season when he was fired after a lukewarm start.
Di Matteo told the London Sunday Times last March that he had turned down many offers to return to the dugout. You imagine that still being paid his $200,000 a week salary by Chelsea until June 2014 diminished his sense of urgency.
Now he has replaced Jens Keller at Schalke, which is mid-table in the Bundesliga but in the Champions League … where it will be playing Chelsea next month. The Soccer Gods move in mysterious ways.
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