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Volume 10 No. 26
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Chelsea Sacks Di Matteo, Expected To Hire Benítez As Temporary Manager

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).