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Chelsea sacked Manager Roberto Di Matteo "in the early hours" of Wednesday morning in his office at the club’s training ground at Cobham, according to Paul Kelso of the London TELEGRAPH. Club Chair Bruce Buck and CEO Ron Gourlay told Di Matteo of Owner Roman Abramovich’s decision to fire him "around 4am," after the squad had returned from Turin following Tuesday night’s 3-0 defeat to Juventus. Buck and Gourlay were "grim-faced" after disembarking at Gatwick Airport having received confirmation that Abramovich was ready to sack his eighth manager in nine years (TELEGRAPH, 11/21). REUTERS' Wildey & Jimenez reported Chelsea wrote on its website: "The team's recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and board felt a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season" (REUTERS, 11/21).
NOT ABRAMOVICH'S TOP CHOICE: In N.Y. Joshua Robinson reported Di Matteo was "never Abramovich's first choice for a permanent appointment." Abramovich, who "so desperately wants to win with style, never seemed to buy into Di Matteo's grind-it-out approach" of defending deep and snatching goals -- even if it did allow Chelsea to stun Barcelona at Camp Nou last spring. Di Matteo "forced Abramovich into keeping him beyond the end of last season" by leading Chelsea through the knockout stages of the Champions League and, ultimately, beating Bayern Munich to win it (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/21).
BENÍTEZ SET TO BE NEW MANAGER: In London, Johnson & Olley reported former Liverpool Manager Rafael Benítez was "flying into London to have an interview" with Chelsea officials Wednesday night and was "expected to be named as the club's new manager." Benítez will only be given a contract "until the end of the season," with Abramovich "still keen" on hiring former Barcelona Manager Pep Guardiola "for the long term" (STANDARD, 11/21). Also in London, Oliver Kay reported Benítez "hopes for a longer-term contract," with sources indicating the possibility of "a compromise where he could be offered an 18-month deal that contains a break clause at the end of this season." Benítez has been out of work since being sacked by Inter Milan in December '10. He discussed his interest in the Chelsea job at a question-and-answer session in Abu Dhabi Wednesday morning. Benítez: "You asked me directly. I can’t answer directly. In football a lot of people are talking so we will see what happens in the next few days. I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies and Chelsea are one of these clubs" (LONDON TIMES, 11/21).
THE RIGHT FIT? In London, Kelso & Burt wrote as a former Liverpool manager, Benítez "will not be a straightforward sell to Chelsea fans, who recall him for the acrimonious clashes" with Real Madrid Manager José Mourinho when the two clubs were vying for Champions League honors. Two semifinals ended in "bitter rows," and he will "have to win over Stamford Bridge." The renewal of his working relationship with striker Fernando Torres "will also be a fascinating element" of the appointment (TELEGRAPH, 11/21).
QUESTIONS LINGER: In London, Gabriele Marcotti opined there are two scenarios in which what happened to Di Matteo makes sense. Scenario number one is that Guardiola "has decided that he has enough of Manhattan’s Upper West Side and, as we speak, is on his way over, ready to take over by the end of the week." We can "safely discount that scenario." Scenario number two is that "there is somebody out there who can do a better job than Di Matteo in the short-term and do a better job of laying the groundwork for the summer when (and if) Guardiola comes in." The the bottom line is that "this simply makes no sense" (LONDON TIMES, 11/21). Also in London, James Lawton wrote, "After all the improbable glory, and the most remarkable war on the most formidable of odds, the chill of his native Alps finally came to Roberto Di Matteo." Sebastian Giovinco scored Juventus’s third goal Tuesday, and for Di Matteo "there could be little alternative but to consider the fate he was about to share with such heavyweight figures as Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Big Phil Scolari." Di Matteo could "comfort himself at least by the knowledge that he too had won one of the great trophies of football and if his fate had been decided in less than a full joined-up season which had brought in two major titles, including the greatest available in club football, it did little to staunch the pain" (INDEPENDENT, 11/21). Also in London, Jason Burt opined "there are two things those who know Roman Abramovich always say about him and Chelsea: Roman is always right (even when he is wrong) -- and whatever happens will come down to the whim of one man. And that man is the club’s billionaire Russian owner." The bottom line with Di Matteo is that Abramovich "was never wholly convinced that he was the right man to coach Chelsea and mould the team in the flamboyant way in which he dreams they will play" (TELEGRAPH, 11/21).
Supporters of Scottish Premier League club Heart of Midlothian FC have bought £100,000 ($159,000) worth of club shares in just three days, bringing the total raised from share sales to more than £600,000 ($957,000), according to Barry Anderson of the SCOTSMAN. Club officials "thanked fans for their loyal backing and criticised those they claim have tried to capitalise on the club's financial troubles." In a "thinly-veiled jibe" at Italian businessman Angelo Massone and Foundation of Hearts Chair Alex Mackie, Hearts said that they remained committed to securing their long-term future and would not be distracted by "self-publicists and dreamers who value themselves more than the club." Massone and Mackie both had takeover bids dismissed as "undervaluing the club." Hearts are "encouraged that supporters continue ploughing money into the share issue." The £600,000 barrier was broken Tuesday, just 72 hours after it was announced that the £500,000 ($797,000) mark had been reached (SCOTSMAN, 11/21).
A HEARTS-FILLED MESSAGE: In Edinburgh, Anderson added that Hearts board message to fans on the club's website read: "Hearts would today like to thank every supporter who has contributed to an excellent start to the club's fundraising efforts as the club's share offer reaches the halfway mark" (SCOTSMAN, 11/21). The Scotland DAILY RECORD noted Hearts board members vowed to resist any move that would see the club "fall into the hands of people who may have ulterior motives." The Hearts message continued: "Your commitment so far is all the more impressive given the stern barriers that we have had to overcome along the way, whether that is demands from tax authorities, opportunism from those interested in making a quick profit for themselves. Our message to them is step aside, we have work to do and this work is for the club and thing but the club. Anything else is simply an unnecessary distraction" (DAILY RECORD, 11/21).
FAN PLANS: STV noted Paul Goodwin, head of Supporters Direct, a government-backed body charged with helping more clubs become fan-owned, "met with the Tynecastle hierarchy again." They discussed "various different models of bringing Hearts fans on board to help own and fund the club, but he warned that results will not come overnight." Goodwin said, "It's a bit like building a house, you have to start off with the planning permission, get the foundations laid and then build it. It's going to be a staged process, and it is moving in the right direction" (STV, 11/21).
BAR TALK: In Edinburgh, David McCann wrote "Hue dunnit?" In a city divided by football allegiances -- "where almost all nail their colours to a maroon or green mast -- the patrons at one Leith pub are crying foul after management painted its facade Hibernian green." The Port O’ Leith Pub, "once renowned for its blood-red exterior, changed its exterior this week prompting some Jambo-leaning regulars to talk of a boycott." But they "need not have feared as the pub -- which has a long-held neutrality when it comes to footballing rivalry -- has merely been temporarily redecorated as it's set to form one of the backdrops to new film Sunshine On Leith." Pub Manager Norrie Stewart admitted that some regulars "have been sniffy about the overnight colour change." Stewart said, "The people from Sunshine On Leith told me it was going to be painted yellow or else I would have told the punters in advance" (EDINBURGH EVENING NEWS, 11/21).
League Championship Leeds United Owner Ken Bates announced Bahrain-based investment bank GFH Capital will complete a 100% takeover of the club on Dec. 21, according to Mark Walker of the London DAILY MAIL. Bates, 80, who took control of the club nearly eight years ago, "confirmed the first part of the takeover had been completed." Bates added that he will stay on as chairman until the end of the season to "help the new owners during a transitional period." Bates told Yorkshire Radio: "We have now completed all the negotiations and investigations with GFH, and we’ve now completed the first part of the purchase and that happened at 10.30pm last night [Tuesday night]." Bates also confirmed that he will be "taking on a new role as club president at the end of the season," while GFH representative David Haigh would be "joining the club’s board immediately," with three more new directors in place before Christmas (DAILY MAIL, 11/21). The BBC reported Leeds confirmed that the new owners "have been financially supporting the club since entering an exclusivity period." The takeover will "end a protracted period of uncertainty that began at the end of May" when Leeds announced it was in investment talks (BBC, 11/21). In London, Roger Blitz reported "terms were not revealed, although people with knowledge of the deal said a cash transaction in the region of £44m had been agreed and that the club had no bank debts" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 11/21).
QUESTIONS RAISED: THE NATIONAL reported questions "had been raised over the funding model" GFH Capital, a subsidiary of Gulf Finance House, had planned. Last month, the company "faced scrutiny over whether the purchase would be compatible with Sharia principles." However, the club confirmed it "had entered a one-month transitional period," which, subject to approval by the English Football League, would see GFH Capital becoming 100% shareholders (THE NATIONAL, 11/21). The London TELEGRAPH reported Bates said, "I can say although the negotiations have taken a very long time, the benefit of that is that, unlike some overseas owners, who have gone in blind like a bull in a china shop and made a complete mess of the club after taking over, this six-month courtship if you like, for want of a better phrase, has given them (GFH) enough opportunities to see how Leeds United works." Long periods of silence from both the club and GFH since has "infuriated some fans," while Leeds Manager Neil Warnock said that he would "only be able to mount a serious promotion challenge with the backing of new owners" (TELEGRAPH, 11/21).
SPEAKING A GOOD GAME: The YORKSHIRE EVENING POST wrote in a live blog Wednesday that Leeds United Supporters' Trust Chair Gary Cooper said, “It’s great that the deal’s done and a lot of expectation has been realised GFH Capital have spoken a really good game and all I hope is that their actions are as impressive. But I do fear that a lot of supporters are going to have a problem with Ken Bates remaining as chairman and then becoming president. That could make things difficult.” Leeds United Supporters Club Chair Ray Fell said, “Time will tell how this takes its course but we’ll all be hoping for a new beginning. The fans will be delighted to see this go through and I sincerely hope that it signals a change in fortunes for the team and the manager” (YORKSHIRE EVENING POST, 11/21).
Scottish Third Division club Rangers former Chair Alastair Johnston believes that the "threat of the club being stripped of titles must end following the tax tribunal verdict on player loans," according to STV. Johnston said that the "whole concept of Rangers being stripped of titles should go away, and go away quickly." Rangers CEO Charles Green issued a similar tenement on Tuesday night saying that the ruling "serves to further undermine the validity" of the Scottish Premier League Commission into the use of Employee Benefit Trusts (STV, 11/20). The SCOTSMAN reported that a probe into Rangers’ alleged use of dual contracts has been pushed back until '13. An independent commission established by the SPL to investigate whether axillary contracts were "used as part of the EBT scheme to pay players has been delayed until January or February" (SCOTSMAN, 11/21).