I was having meetings in London on Monday and at one point the subject turned to Chelsea's assistant first-team coach. Criteria were established. The candidate must be Chelsea through and through, somewhat experienced, tactically sound and fluent in English and at least one other non-Portuguese language - and names were thrown out: Gianfranco Zola and Gus Poyet were favourites, and after some deliberation of their merits, another Chelsea legend bubbled to the top of my brain. "Hold on," said I, "Roberto di Matteo is out of work."
And now he's not, which is excellent news as far as I'm concerned. Di Matteo is the author of my single favourite Chelsea memory, so I'll always have a bit of time for him, but he stands on his own feet in terms of qualification as Villas-Boas' assistant. He couples being a Blues legend (taken from us by injury so he never really entered a decline phase) with managerial experience in the Championship and the Premier League, and although West Bromwich Albion let him go mid-season there wasn't a whole lot he did wrong in the Baggies first season back in the top flight.
Di Matteo's Swiss born and raised, so I'm assuming he's fluent in some of the languages Villas-Boas doesn't already have covered, and he's a good English speaker on top of that. He favoured a 4-2-3-1 at West Brom, choosing to focus on the attack rather than having his team defend for their lives, qualities that will have endeared him to the new manager, whose playing style with Porto was likewise attack-minded.
But more important than communication and status is the fact that he's Roberto di Matteo. While Andre Villas-Boas is, no doubt, an excellent coaching prospect, the fact remains that he's 33 years old and essentially the same age as both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, who worked with him when he was an assistant scout. There may be a respect issue there. Not so di Matteo, who was around when the likes of Lampard and John Terry were newcomers and is one of the major symbols of the Blues' return to power in the late 1990s. This move will almost certainly help Villas-Boas quell any dressing room dissent.
The conversation I mentioned before actually ended with a shrug of the shoulders and the acknowledgement that even if Chelsea did pick him up to be Villas-Boas' assistant, some other team would just hire him out from under us as a full-blown manager, and I'm still concerned that that might be the case. Like Chris Hughton, di Matteo's already shown that he can get a club promoted from the Championship and hold their own in the Premier League, and he almost certainly deserves another shot at management. But right now, I'm hoping he doesn't get it for a little while.
Welcome back, Robbie. We've missed you.