Managers row in behind Di Matteo
Soccer: Former Chelsea number two Steve Clarke defended owner Roman Abramovich’s hire-and-fire policy, although admitted he was “surprised and disappointed” to see Roberto Di Matteo sacked and replaced by Rafael Benitez yesterday.
West Brom boss Clarke was a team-mate of Di Matteo’s at Stamford Bridge before spending four years as assistant coach under Mourinho and Avram Grant. He believes Di Matteo’s place is guaranteed in Chelsea’s history after leading the Blues to Champions League glory, but Clarke also points to the overall number of trophies won during the Abramovich era.
He said: “I am surprised and disappointed for Robbie who is a good friend and you don’t like to see your good friends lose their jobs. It is the way the owner runs the club. I don’t think anyone should be over-surprised at it. They look at results, the owner makes decisions and they act on what they feel is the right thing to do for Chelsea.
“I’ve always said the owners of any club can run their business the way they want to run it. That’s how Mr Abramovich chooses to run Chelsea and it’s been successful. It is not for me to criticise or to say it is the right or the wrong way.”
But Clarke added: “Roberto has got his place in history at Chelsea, the first coach to win the Champions League. It is a massive achievement and he can be really proud of that.”
Albion’s 2-1 win over Chelsea last weekend increased the pressure on Di Matteo before he was sacked after the Champions League setback against Juventus in Turin. But Clarke said: “I don’t think we had a hand in it. There were a number of factors that resulted in Roberto losing his job.”
Norwich manager Chris Hughton said he was surprised to hear of Di Matteo’s dismissal.
Hughton said: “When you have a manager who has the CV Roberto has, in the short period of time he has been there, you expect him to still be in the job. He has almost had to develop a new side, particularly offensively. They have bought some wonderful players. We were at the wrong end of that at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.
“We saw the quality they have got going forward. It is a newish team and sometimes that takes time to settle in. They have by far had more good days than bad days so far this season. My thoughts go with Roberto who has proved he is a wonderful manager and it is not a bad CV that he has.”
On new interim boss Benitez, Hughton said: “There is no doubt about the credentials of the manager coming in. He is a top-class manager who did a brilliant job at Liverpool.”
Wigan boss Roberto Martinez believes Di Matteo should be proud of the success he brought.
“You don’t like managers losing their job but in this case, with Roberto Di Matteo, he can be a very proud man. To win the Champions League and the FA Cup — sometimes it can take a lifetime for a manager to do what he has achieved in a very short space of time. I think he can be extremely proud.”
Stoke boss Tony Pulis believes the relationship owners and the manager is vital if the latter is to survive in his job.
“The big thing for me is the people in charge of football clubs — they are the people who hire and fire managers,” he said. “If you look at Sir Alex Ferguson and what the Glazers have done in backing him (at Manchester United), the board of directors at Arsenal and the way they have backed Arsene Wenger and the Everton situation with David Moyes and the chairman there, who have a fantastic relationship — it is such an important thing now.
“With the ebb and flow in football, you can be very good for a couple of weeks and very bad for a few weeks, and you need strength behind you. You need people who are going to stick behind you and be strong enough to do that, and understand what the game is all about. Nobody flushes through it straight away."
Leeds manager Neil Warnock believes Di Matteo should be “absolutely delighted” to have achieved the success he had at Stamford Bridge because he was only “part-time anyhow”.
“I think I would be absolutely delighted if I were him, because he was never going to be the manager,” he told reporters. “He’s taken the job on and won the Champions League and the FA Cup, which nobody can take away from him. He’s got a big pay-off and he can get on with his life. He was only part-time anyhow. To do what he’s done is fantastic, I’m really pleased for him.
“You can’t take what he’s done away from him. A lot experienced managers have strived and will strive to do what he’s done. I think it will almost be a relief for him now. He’s had the cream so let them get on with the rest.
"It will be interesting to come up against the new manager (Benitez) in the (League) Cup next month. I’ve had my moments with him. That’s a great appointment for him isn’t it? I think I’d have rung up saying ‘just take me until the end of the season’.”
Warnock and Benitez clashed on a number of occasions while the Spaniard was at Liverpool, most notably after the Reds boss fielded a weakened team at Fulham. The Cottagers won the game and went on to avoid relegation by edging out Warnock's Sheffield United by one point.