He’s spent £1bn on a European obsession. Now his caretaker manager Di Matteo promises to deliver Roman’s Holy Grail
By Matt Barlow
PUBLISHED: 21:55 GMT, 18 May 2012 |
Roberto Di Matteo has promised to do everything in his power to complete Roman Abramovich’s quest to conquer Europe.
The Champions League has proved an obsession for the Russian billionaire who has poured more than £1billion into Chelsea since buying the club nine years ago.
He came within touching distance in Moscow in 2008 and against Bayern Munich his team must overcome the disadvantage of playing away in the German side’s stadium while having four players banned.
Still they believe. ‘Can we win it? Yes,’ rapped Di Matteo, who is sweating on the fitness of central defender David Luiz and also toying with handing a Champions League debut to 22-year-old Ryan Bertrand in what could be the final chapter of his term as interim manager.
‘My players have all the qualities you need to win this competition. I am very positive and very confident. You make your own destiny and fate.
‘It is important the boys remember they are great football players and have been for many years.’
Di Matteo has transformed Chelsea’s season since stepping up when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March and Frank Lampard, captain in the absence of John Terry, said he had done the ‘perfect job’. Bringing the European Cup to Stamford
Bridge for the first time would be an amazing finale but the 41-year-old Italian still fears he will be pushed aside in the summer.
‘I don’t know what the future will hold,’ said Di Matteo, to the astonishment of Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes, who cannot believe Abramovich might fire the manager who led the team so impressively to Munich.
Heynckes said: ‘He’s done a marvellous job. I can’t see why whether he wins or not would have consequences. You need continuity. Atmosphere with the players and harmony between players and coach is very important. I don’t think there’s any argument against him continuing.
‘From the outside, he seems a very cool person who is very much in control. Step by step, he’s improved contact with the players and created harmony. He makes an excellent impression on me and, if I was Roman Abramovich, I would continue with this young man.’
Having won it with Real Madrid in 1998, Heynckes could become the fourth manager to win the European Cup with different clubs and is the first in the Champions League era to play the final at home.
‘It was the dream to have the final in our own stadium and we’ve made it,’ said the German. ‘But I don’t share the euphoria that we’re the favourites.
‘There is no favourite. Don’t forget, in Spain, they spoke about El Clasico in the final. Whoops, it’s something else now.
‘So it would be wise to be humble and modest. We may have a tiny advantage from playing at home, we have our own dressing room, we know every blade of grass and that could make a difference.
‘But we are playing a team with huge experience, fantastic organisation and outstanding players. They beat Napoli 4-1 and they beat Barcelona, the best team in the world, and drew 2-2 in Barcelona with a man down.
ROY HODGSON: CHELSEA CAN WIN
New England boss Roy Hodgson has dismissed the theory Chelsea are underdogs to win tomorrow’s Champions League final.
Hodgson would have been at the Allianz Arena anyway in his capacity as a member of UEFA’s technical study group.
However, as he is now planning for Euro 2012, he will have a particular eye on the three likely members of Chelsea’s starting line-up – Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and Frank Lampard – to face Bayern Munich.
And, whilst Hodgson has seen the assessments of how one-sided this final apparently is going to be, having watched Chelsea overcome favourites Barcelona in the semi-finals, he is not so sure.
‘It will be a lot closer than some of the pundits are predicting,’ he told www.thefa.com.
‘Most people are writing Chelsea off but I don’t see them as underdogs at all.
‘They have done extremely well to get to the final, they eliminated the favourites to win the tournament with two splendid performances.
‘If they get anywhere close to those performances they have got every chance.’
‘That is a sufficient warning for everybody.’
Among Chelsea’s chief threats to a home win is Didier Drogba and Bayern’s 67-year-old manager knows what to expect from the Ivorian.
‘Drogba is definitely dangerous,’ said Heynckes. ‘He can score at any moment and sometimes he overdoes it a bit, sometimes he’s an outstanding actor on the pitch.’
Drogba responded, saying: ‘As far as I know, I am not an actor. They have a great manager with a lot of experience. He did a lot for Bayern Munich and I have a lot of respect for him.’
Drogba has spent all season dodging questions about his future since snubbing Chelsea’s offer of a one-year contract extension in a bid to secure a new two-year deal.
Friday was no different, although he did confirm he would take up chief executive Ron Gourlay’s invitation to sit down at the end of the season in an 11th-hour attempt to reach an agreement.
‘We’ll sit down with him and we’re going to talk,’ said Drogba, who refused to criticise the club for failing to make him an offer he could not refuse.
‘I don’t think about this. Tomorrow’s game is so important.
‘My future, my contract, are not important. I want to give everything to the team and the fans.
‘From there, we’ll see what happens.’
Drogba has been linked with no end of clubs from across the globe, with even Barcelona reportedly interested in what would be a free transfer.
‘There are a lot of rumours about me being offered to Barcelona,’ Drogba said.
‘It’s not true. It’s not true.
‘The kind of moment I’m living now, the excitement of a big Champions League final game, is more important than thinking about Barcelona approaching me.’
Meanwhile, Lampard also admitted he wants to win the final for Abramovich.
‘I haven’t had direct message from the owner,’ he said..
‘The general message is always there.
‘He has put a lot into this club. Without him, we wouldn’t be sitting here now.
‘He’s always been behind us. You don’t get into a final very often. We want to win it now.’
Lampard also accepted that Chelsea’s run to the final would have been virtually impossible without the Italian manager.
‘You can see his importance in the results,’ he added. ‘Roberto has been very clever managing the situation.
‘We were struggling for confidence and rather than come in and make drastic changes, he spoke to everyone individually and created confidence in the group.
‘We got wins – the Napoli game changed everything – and from then on quietly he’s done a perfect job.
‘If anyone deserves to win this game, it’s him.’
Lampard, who played alongside former Germany talisman Michael Ballack for four years at Chelsea, added: ‘He was one of those players who you could probably take the wrong way in the beginning, but he was so determined, confident and wanted to win.
‘The German teams I have played against all seem to have that individually. That’s why they will be such a force at the Euros as well this summer.
‘They are very technically intelligent. Maybe it’s the set-up and the system they have with the young kids there.
‘We talk about England and what we need to do – the Spanish have shown it, the French have shown it and the Germans with their Under 21s.’
Bayern are the flagship German club and Lampard was under no illusions about the task facing Chelsea, branding it ‘a huge challenge’.
He added: ‘They have great players up front – I’ve watched them a few times.
‘(Mario) Gomez’s goal record is amazing and his all-round game and his finishing is fantastic. And the wingers we all know about anyway.
‘In (Toni) Kroos and (Bastian) Schweinsteiger, they have two fantastic midfield players.
‘I can’t speak highly enough of them actually. Kroos has come on and really impressed me. And then (Thomas) Muller played behind the front man.
‘It’s going to be a battleground because they are very strong in there.’
Bayern have been weakened by three suspensions for Saturday’s clash but Chelsea have been affected by four, including to centre-backs John Terry and Branislav Ivanovic.
But Lampard was confident the fit-again Gary Cahill and David Luiz would fill the void.
He said: ‘John is obviously the captain and a top defender but we’re fortunate that in Gary and David looking like they are going to be fit, we have good cover.
‘A lot of teams losing their centre-halves would not be so confident but I’m pretty confident in them.
‘And then Ashley Cole – say no more, you know what you get from him. And whoever we play at right-back, Jose Bosingwa or Paulo Ferreira.
‘We have to be on our game to stop them but I have confidence in the players to do it.’