Defeated Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola holds the key to Roberto Di Matteo’s hopes of becoming full-time Chelsea chief.
Guardiola has pledged to tell Nou Camp President Sandro Rossell within the next 72 hours if he plans to stay on for a fifth season at the Barca helm, with France boss Laurent Blanc already being discussed as his potential successor.
If not, then Roman Abramovich is poised to throw everything at the architect of the best footballing side on the planet in a bid to entice him to Stamford Bridge.
But while Germany boss Joachim Loew is also thought to be on Abramovich’s shortlist with paddy power ranking him third favorite, should Guardiola decide to stay in Catalonia Di Matteo could get the chance he wants to take the job for real.
The final decision will be taken by the Chelsea owner but Di Matteo’s expectation that he will lead his side out in Munich on May 19 not knowing if he will even be at the club next season was confirmed by Blues chief executive Ron Gourlay.
Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant, sacked after losing the Champions League Final in Moscow in 2008, all stated Di Matteo deserves to be appointed full-time.
Gourlay, though, hinted that other irons are in the Chelsea fire as he said: “Robbie has done a fantastic job but we will stick to our word and wait until the end of the season.
“We will take it one game at a time and see where we are. That’s the best thing for everyone. So we need to wait. We’ve got a number of big games before the Champion League Final.”
Gourlay’s words came with the Chelsea hierarchy still pondering their options, with Guardiola top of the list and Loew – who may leave Germany after Euro 2012 – seemingly now ahead of Jose Mourinho.
Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp is the outsider of the field after winning back to back German titles but his lack of European experience counts against him and Di Matteo could still end up with the job, perhaps working alongside a newly-appointed Director of Football.
The backing for Di Matteo has intensified in the wake of Tuesday’s remarkable performance in Barcelona and Zola, a former Blues team-mate, echoed Redknapp and Grant as he said: “Robbie is a friend but I say he deserves the job because of what he has done on the pitch. That’s quite remarkable.
“We have to respect the club, which has its own policies and thinking, but I know Roberto Di Matteo has Chelsea in his heart and can only do good for the club.”
That view was reflected by Di Matteo’s players. Branislav Ivanovic, one of those to miss next month’s Final through suspension, said: “The manager has done a great job.
“He changed everything. He changed our minds and he gave us support, trust. Everybody is happy with Robbie Di Matteo. We feel together and we feel great.”
Frank Lampard added: “It’s a hard call for me to make because it’s a club decision. What I can say is that what he’s done is no coincidence.
“He’s created an atmosphere, he’s got players playing, the camp’s very happy and you can see that. The results don’t lie and I can’t speak highly enough of him. He’s been incredible.”
By Martin Lipton