DANNY CIPRIANI reckons the secret to Roberto Di Matteo’s success at Chelsea is being liked by the players.
By TOM BARCLAY
The Blues were in turmoil last season when the unpopular Andre Villas-Boas was sacked midway through the season.
But Di Matteo took up the reins and led the club to an FA Cup and Champions League double.
In an exclusive chat with SunSport, rugby star and Chelsea fan Cipriani revealed his admiration for how Di Matteo managed to restore harmony to the dressing room and lead the team to glory.
TB: Why are you a Chelsea fan?
DC: I was born and raised West London, so they are my local club. I’ve always followed them.
What do you remember about your first match?
It was in 1998 and we beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. Frank Leboeuf scored a first-half penalty to help us squeeze through.
Who is your all-time favourite player?
It’s a hard one because we have had a lot of great players. In the end, I’m going to pick two — Gianfranco Zola and Didier Drogba. Zola had outrageous talent and Didier was a goal machine who scored that winning penalty in the Champions League final.
Who in the current Chelsea set-up are you most excited about?
Again, there a two players. Eden Hazard has serious technique and he’s looked really good already. The other is Victor Moses — he went to the same school as me.
What’s the best game you’ve ever seen?
The best Chelsea game I’ve ever seen was the Champions League final just gone but I only saw it on TV. The best game I’ve ever seen live was the 4-4 draw with Liverpool in the Champions League in 2009. It was a bit nerve-wracking because of their late goals but Frank Lampard brought it home with two of his own.
Do you get down to Stamford Bridge much?
Like most other sportsmen, I get down there as much as my fixtures allow. It’s hard though as we obviously play at the weekend too.
What do you make of Chelsea at the moment?
We’ve started the season extremely well. It’s the strongest we’ve looked in years. We’ve got loads of creative players with the signings of Oscar and Hazard to play with the likes of Juan Mata.
Are you happy with Roberto Di Matteo as manager?
Yes. You can’t ask any more from him — he won us the Champions League. The players seem to like him which is the main thing.
What do you make of the new signings, particularly Oscar and Hazard?
They look class. I saw Oscar play for Brazil in the Olympics and he’s a massive talent. The goal he scored against Juventus was brilliant.
Roman Abramovich — a good thing for Chelsea?
How can you say it is a bad thing?
Are you happy with Chelsea’s summer transfer business or do you feel the squad needs to be strengthened further?
I think the team is spot on. Fernando Torres is getting back to his best and we’ve got a lot of young players who are only going to get better.
I know you were a good footballer as a youngster. When and why did you decide not to pursue professional football as a career?
It was mainly because the school I went to concentrated on rugby. They focused more on football a couple of years later, but it was a bit after me — more when Victor was there.
How close did you come to signing for QPR back in 2010 when you had a trial at the club?
No, it wasn’t a trial, it was just a chance to change up my training. I worked at Tottenham for six weeks and also enjoyed my time there.
I know you look up to Alex Ferguson at Man Utd. What disciplines/mentalities in football do you use in your rugby career?
Footballers enjoy their training a lot more so I think it’s important to keep that enjoyment on rugby.
Which modern-day footballer is your style most like?
It’s difficult to say, I try to bring some unpredictability to rugby so anyone who fits that mould — someone like Hatem Ben Arfa or Hazard, maybe?
Be honest… would you rather score the winning penalty in the Champions League final for Chelsea or kick the winning points for England in the Six Nations?
That’s a tough question, as I’m aspiring to play for England again. The Six Nations just pips it.