Fernando Torres is to Chelsea managers what oranges are to victims in The Godfather films. The presence of the fruit throughout the trilogy indicates a death-related event will soon occur and after Carlo Ancelotti fell victim last year Di Matteo is the second after the Blues were trounced 3-0 by Juventus. Two Italians, as well.
Torres was a 71st minute arrival at Juventus Stadium but his absence is being treated as if it was critical to the result. He had scored once in his last seven matches prior to last night, and that came via the Shakhtar Donetsk goalkeeper kicking the ball against the unassuming Spaniard.
The 27-year-old has tallied a measly 19 goals for the club since his £50m arrival in January 2011. Di Matteo even made noises at the weekend he would like to sign Atletico Madrid's prolific frontman Radamel Falcao, who netted a terrific hat-trick against Chelsea in the Super Cup back in August. It was a thinly-veiled hint at his disenchantment with Torres' ineffectiveness which would have bruised not just the striker's ego but the man who sanctioned his signing. Irrespective of whether Roman Abramovich wants Falcao, maybe he regarded it as insubordination on his employee's behalf.
Di Matteo and Torres' professional relationship was a strained one. In the final two months of his Chelsea career Didier Drogba was irreplaceably good, much to Torres' chagrin, so two days after the glory of the club's Champions League win the former Liverpool player made the untimely decision to air a number of grievances with those at Stamford Bridge.
Torres is sent off against Manchester United in October
"I have been through the worst moments of my career during the season. I feel they have treated me in a way I was not expecting." Torres was bitter at his substitute role for the Munich final but with Drogba's departure guaranteed he was destined to be a first-teamer at the beginning of the 2012-13 campaign, liberated by the Ivory Coast international's exit. It hasn't worked out.
That Di Matteo dropped him for the Juve match was neither a surprise nor unwise. The decision to deploy Eden Hazard as the in-vogue false nine was an obvious effort to tighten Chelsea's porous defence. It was negative though, and the negativity was compounded by a woeful defeat with each goal a startling reminder of the team's defensive regression since the watertight days of José Mourinho. And Roman Abramovich abhors negativity like Don Corleone does narcotics.
19 May 2012 may be remembered as the greatest night in the club's history but their display against Bayern Munich was a homage to catenaccio. Stamford Bridge's Tsar even seemed to grimace rather than beam during the celebrations despite the realisation of his aspirations.
So Chelsea spent £79.5m in the summer on Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses Marko Marin as Abramovich pursued his dream of seeing his adopted club conquer Europe by playing vibrant football.
What Abramovich ignored when he sanctioned the tens of millions to be spent on exciting attackers was that Chelsea's defence was in need of addressing as well. César Azpilicueta was brought in to solve the squad's problem position at right-back but John Terry aside Di Matteo does not boast a quality central defender with continental pedigree. David Luíz continues to toil with or without Terry while doubts remain over Gary Cahill's reliability at the highest level. The irony is his signing - a defensive one - came via the club's hierarchy in January as he soon found himself unwanted and unloved by André Villas-Boas.
Luíz and Cahill are also poorly protected by the nondescript John Obi Mikel, left to screen the defence by himself as the marauding Ramires offers a more attacking threat despite his box-to-box prowess. Di Matteo should not have been held solely responsible for such a disjointed XI but his two-year contract smacked of a stop-gap appointment. Only at Chelsea could a manager win the FA Cup and Champions League yet be sacked 26 weeks and 186 days after winning the European Cup.
The ludicrousness is augmented by the two caretaker suggestions. Avram Grant, who has not managed since he oversaw West Ham United's relegation in 2011, and Rafael Benítez, discharged by Internazionale in December 2010 and without a job since, are the two candidates. Grant of course took Chelsea to two finals in 2008 and was the width of a post away from winning the European Cup with the club four years before Di Matteo, only that masked his obvious shortcomings as a manager which were exposed at Upton Park. Benítez's affinity with Liverpool meanwhile will make him an unpopular appointment amongst Chelsea supporters, notwithstanding his poor record in Premier League football.
A month ago Chelsea were top of the Premier League and unbeaten only for Manchester United to end their superb start. Two hours later the Mark Clattenburg allegations were reported, heralding the beginning of Di Matteo's end. A verdict on the Clattenburg row is expected this week and Manchester City arrive at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. And should they be eliminated from the Champions League they would be the first defending European champions to go out at the first round of entry since Steaua Bucharest in 1986-87. The oranges are piling up for Chelsea.
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