The job Roberto di Matteo has done in reviving Chelsea FC borders on the miraculous. Now that the supernatural work is complete, Chelsea should remove the "interim" tag from di Matteo's position as manager, so he can get on with the natural work of taking the club forward.
In two months, he has won over players and fans, and he delivered a fine piece of silverware — the 2011-12 FA Cup — to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea has won 12, drawn four and lost just twice (in all competitions) under his watch. He has also taken the Blues to the final of the UEFA Champions League, where they will face Bayern Munich on May 19.
The outcome of that game should have no bearing on di Matteo's prospects of permanently securing the job. In fact, club bosses could do worse than naming him permanent manager on the eve of the big game. It could give the Chelsea camp a psychological boost before taking the field against the heavily favored Germans.
Chelsea has existed in its own surreal world for the better part of the last year. Former boss Carlo Ancelotti was undermined throughout the second half of last season and fired just minutes after the season's final game ended.
Andre Villas-Boas replaced Ancelotti and was ordered to revolutionize Chelsea's style of play. Owner Roman Abramovich wanted his team to play an attractive, high-tempo game. But Chelsea players were unable (or more likely unwilling) to play that way and sustain the level of success to which the club has grown accustomed. It was a messy and bloody affair that lasted a little over eight months.
All di Matteo has done is come in, pop the bubble of surreality, pick up the pieces and restore a proper sense of perspective to the club. Chelsea does not need a revolution. It needs evolution.
An orderly transition from the era dominated by the "old guard" to one that leans heavily on its supporting cast and new arrivals can keep the club at or near the top of the English game for the next two years or more.
Di Matteo is the right man for that job. It's not that a contract should be his reward for Chelsea's achievements over the last two months. That would be irresponsible. In doing the job itself, di Matteo has shown that his strengths as a manager meet many of the required skills listed on the job description.
His calm nature suits the madhouse that Chelsea FC can be. Press leaks and scandals are regular occurrences. But Di Matteo helps his players keep their focus by never losing his when staring into the West London spotlight.
The 41-year-old has been praised as an excellent player manager. That skill is crucial when dealing with a dressing room full of champions and egos. He has seamlessly rotated his squad, convincing some players to accept lesser roles for the greater good. Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba came off the bench in Wednesday's loss to Newcastle, while Ashley Cole did not play at all. But the trio played pivotal roles in the FA Cup final victory over Liverpool.
"His man-management has been fantastic," midfielder John Obi Mikel told the Telegraph. "He is very similar to the way [Guus] Hiddink and [Jose] Mourinho did the job."
Di Matteo has also proven himself to be a more than capable tactician. He turned around Chelsea's season by tweaking the system Villas-Boas introduced rather than scrapping it all together.
Technical director Michael Emenalo formally interviewd di Matteo for the job nearly two weeks ago. Chelsea higher ups such as CEO Ron Gourlay have said little about his chances, but they are impressed by his body of work.
"He's done very well since we brought him in as the interim manager, and I think the players have responded particularly well as well, so there's been a good team effort," Gourlay told the Mirror. "When you look back and where we've got to, I think we've come a long way."
Chelsea players are in full support of di Matteo's candidacy.
"He deserves it completely," Lampard told the Mail. "I can't speak highly enough of him. Look at our record [since he took charge] — it's not a coincidence.
"He's got the group with an atmosphere. He's created a spirit and determination. The players were here, anyway, but what he has done in bringing them together and getting results like against Barcelona and others from before is amazing. Fair play to him."
Abramovich should learn from his past mistakes and realize that he can't buy a club and turn it into something it's not. The ideals and philosophies to which he inspires can't be imposed by an outsider. They need to be born, cultivated, instilled and developed from inside. It takes someone with a spiritual connection to the club to do that job. Money helps, but a manager needs something more powerful: time.
The Italian just won his third FA Cup with the Chelsea FC. The first two — in 1997 and 2000 — came as a player. The latest triumph cemented his place in the club's lore. Di Matteo has Chelsea singing in perfect harmony, and Villas-Boas' heart must break with envy when he hears its song.