Chelsea: Di Matteo's Hero Status Doesn't Make Him Right For The Job

Players are increasingly moving into management once their career winds down, but should they go back to the clubs that made them heroes?
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Players are increasingly moving into management once their career winds down, but should they go back to the clubs that made them heroes?

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This week Gianfranco Zola was asked whether he would be interested in becoming the manager at Chelsea. The correct response from Zola should have been: “I’ve had one largely unsuccessful managerial job that lasted two years and ended in 2010. I’m not qualified for that job”. However, he instead chose to answer: “Yes, I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t want the job”.

You may as well ask him whether he wants to be the next prime minister of Italy because he’s Italian, or whether he thinks he could have a go at being a professor of French naturalism because his name is Zola. It seems that just because he was a Chelsea legend, nay, a Premier League legend, that he’s being linked with the post. Question is, why would he want to go back and risk soiling his as-yet unblemished reputation in West London?

Newcastle made this mistake when they looked to Alan Shearer to be their saviour from the dugout, as he had been so many times in front of the Gallowgate End. He was given 8 games to save the club, a big ask and, with a crushing inevitability, Newcastle were relegated. Shearer subsequently was interviewed for the Cardiff City job that summer, but his brief flirtation with management seems to have ended with Shearer lighting up a cigarette and leaving a 9 digit phone number by the side of the bed. He even made a joke about getting Newcastle relegated on Match Of The Day 3 (Yes, there’s a 3rd one, and it’s 3 times as shit as the others). His BBC seat is far too comfortable for him to ever consider returning to the dugout.

The simple fact is this: a good player does not a good manager make

Look at Ferguson’s disciples whom he has moulded in his image. Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Paul Ince. All fantastic players at United, all have had varying degrees of success at managerial level – although with Ince, you feel like his big job came far too soon, seemingly doing irreparable damage to his managerial career. Would any United fan want any of these players replacing Ferguson when the time comes? You’d think not, but will they be throwing their hats into the ring? You can bet on it.

The simple fact is this: a good player does not a good manager make, and neither does having played under different managers mean shit when you’re going for a manager’s job yourself. It’s a bit like when Hilary Clinton pointed to her experience being Bill Clinton’s wife when she was running for the Democratic Presidential Candidate, or me saying that I should be the next Arsenal manager because of the terrific job I’m doing with Hereford Utd on Football Manager 2012 – 8th place in the Championship last season, making a promotion push this year.

You need to cut your teeth somewhere before you start making a push for the big jobs. Roberto Di Matteo knew this, and that’s why he took the job at MK Dons, who’d already shown faith with a player turned manager when they appointed Paul Ince. In many ways MK Dons are the perfect club for a manager looking to cut their teeth. They have no history, no tradition, a decent sized stadium and a fanbase presumably made up of people who are just glad to have some semblance of a home team. Win, lose, or draw, they don’t care, and it’s nice to see a recognisable face telling their players what to do.

Chelsea are looking dangerous again, players are coming back into form, they’re still in the hunt for two major trophies and they could still conceivably scrape into the Champion’s League

Di Matteo continued to win admirers for his style of play at West Bromwich Albion, but he was sacked from that position after The Baggies struggled over the Christmas period, replaced with the more experienced Roy Hodgson. Now though, after playing second fiddle to the cacophonous disaster that was Andre Villas-Boas’ reign, he finds himself presumably where he always wanted to be – in the dugout at Stamford Bridge, the hallowed turf on which he was a hero, and it’s a case of so far, so good. The team are looking dangerous again, players are coming back into form, they’re still in the hunt for two major trophies and they could still conceivably scrape into the Champion’s League.

Next season though, when the dust has settled on this tumultuous campaign, their fans will be faced with the reality that they could have a manager with only 4 years of managerial experience, and not even 1 year of Premiership managerial experience, being asked to mount a challenge on four fronts. If that is the case then maybe it’d be worth getting someone with a little more experience.

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