I've slept on this now, and I'm still a bit sick to my stomach over the events of November 21, 2012. Rafa Benitez is our manager, and that will take some getting used to before I stop feeling dirty about that fact. He'll most certainly have an uphill battle to win the support of this fanbase, but it's definitely not an impossible task.
What's more far appalling to me than the decision to hire that man is the way that the club went about it. I could sort of understand the club's reaction to the awful showings against Juventus and West Brom*, but word came out last night that this chain of events was set in motion before either of those games were played. The question that immediately comes to mind in that scenario is why?
*I by no means agree with it though
We are all familiar with the job Robbie did as an interim manager to earn his two-year contract, but let's look at exactly what he did this season up to the point this decision was made. Overall, Di Matteo's side had played 18 games to the point the decision was made. They had won 11, lost 3, and drawn 4. That's a 61% win percentage, which really doesn't look bad when considering the Champions League group we were drawn into.
The side had dropped points in seven fixtures, and there was only one extended streak of poor performances to look at. The three game stretch of the UEFA Super Cup, QPR, and Juventus in London featured a loss and a pair of draws. This was easily the worst stretch of the season up to the point that this decision was made, and Di Matteo's side responded by winning their next six contests. By no means did Di Matteo's performance in the season's first 18 fixture justify a sacking, yet the board was preparing to do so anyway.
Roberto Di Matteo was not perfect by any stretch. Tactically, he appeared to be struggling a bit to find a balance between attack and defense. To some extent that's understandable, given the fact that we've just done such a massive overhaul of the squad. Still, I'd understand if the club wanted somebody who could fix things immediately. In this capacity as well, I have my doubts about the thought process of the club.
Rafa is known for being extremely organized in this regard, but history shows us it's not a quick transition. Look at Rafa's first season in charge at Liverpool, where they were terrible domestically as the squad struggled to adapt to the new style. They'd finish on 58 points, only staying in the Champions League with a great run to win the title. That late season run demonstrates exactly how organized Rafa can be with time, but we are essentially using him as a stop-gap until we can hit the market in the summer.
His first season in Liverpool doesn't appear to be a fluke either. By now, you're all aware of his absolutely dreadful results with Inter. Again, there were good performances peppered in with the awful ones, but finding any level of consistency was something that looked to be a slow process.
I certainly hope Rafa gets rolling early, but again, I have my concerns. Chelsea had their hands tied a bit by making a change in November, but they identified Rafa as a short term fix despite strong evidence that he's likely to take some time to settle the squad into his preferred style. He just seems a very poor choice as an interim hire looking for short-term results, he appears to be more of a big-name brought in to "justify" the decision to go away from Di Matteo.
My biggest issue with this is still the fact that we even started the season with Di Matteo at all. He clearly wasn't an option the club really wanted at this point based on the way they let him go, yet they went through the entire pre-season process with him in charge anyway. When they finally did make the decision to let him go, he had us sitting second in the league, tied for points atop a very difficult Champions League group, and looking like the favorite to win the Capital One Cup. There was nothing sack-worthy about his performance, yet they were preparing for the move anyway.
Di Matteo did a wonderful job as interim manager. Regardless of what anyone thought of him this season, it's impossible to take that away from him. If the club felt (and they clearly did) that he was not the right guy for the job long term, they owed it to him and the fans to to let the man leave on a high note in the summer. Instead, they waited for the first sign of trouble with the axe already hovering, in an attempt to justify parting with a Champions League winning manner. It's disgusting behavior from the board at Chelsea, and it honestly makes me sick to my stomach.
It's a sad day when you realize that the manager of the club you support deserves better than the the club that just sacked him, but in this case, it's very true. Roberto Di Matteo was nothing but class in his time in charge here, and the board of this club walked all over him and waited for the first opportunity they could find to dump him out on the street. It's classless and unsettling, and it just makes me feel dirty. At the moment, Chelsea FC don't deserve a guy like Robarto Di Matteo. At the moment, they deserve Rafa Benitez.