AFTER STINTS at the helm of MK Dons and West Brom, former Stamford Bridge playing legend Roberto di Matteo is back with the Blues. Here, Andre Villas-Boas’ new right-hand man gives the lowdown on life at Chelsea.
Roberto, what was it that made you give up management to become assistant coach for Chelsea?
I’m 41 and having managed MK Dons and then West Bromwich Albion, I must admit I was hoping for another manager position, perhaps in the Premier League, or in the Championship where I had done well, too. Nothing was happening in that regard, so when Chelsea’s proposal to be André Villas-Boas’ assistant came along, I was happy to accept it. I always hoped to return to Stamford Bridge one day, but you never know when and what the future holds. I always thought it was my destiny to come back here to Chelsea and, after almost 10 years, it’s a fantastic feeling. I spent a good part of my career here and I have great memories and many friends, so for me it is like a second home.
What was the thinking behind Villas-Boas’ ‘10 Commandments’ to the players?
To win trophies at the highest level, the small details are very important and André is a guy who always takes care of every little detail. In the past, there have been some situations at this club – even small ones that have not necessarily been serious – that have brought problems and unpleasant moments. We just tried to write a code of conduct that the players of Chelsea must follow. In a club, especially at the highest level like Chelsea, there must be rules to follow, and they apply to everyone.
Are you the buffer between the players and the manager, someone that can have a laugh with them?
Perhaps you should ask the boys about that! I generally get along with everyone, but always in respect of their roles and who they are as people. Maybe with me the players feel less in awe because some of them maybe remember me as a player. I think this helps in some ways. Unlike those coaches and managers who did not play top-level football, players cannot take the mickey out of me too much on the training pitch. When I kick a football, I’m still able to send it where I want it to go (laughs) and the players respect that. When you work in an environment that’s highly competitive like this, a ‘take it easy’ approach helps everyone, and I try to bring that.
How are you getting on with André?
We share the same football philosophy and that’s why he wanted me to be part of his staff. We both feel strong and happy with how it’s going and I thank him for thinking of me and believing I was suited for this role. I am very happy to work with him. From the first conversation we had, there was a powerful link and a good understanding. It was a very natural involvement. When you meet someone, from the first impression you can figure out if you will get on or not, and it was very positive.
In a club like Chelsea, there must be rules to follow, and they apply to everyone
How will it work behind the scenes between the pair of you?
André is going to be in charge, and we are going to work the way he thinks is right to be successful. For me, it’s an ultimate challenge. I was a manager and I know what it means to make the decisions, but now I have to accept I don’t have the final say. I’ve been a coach before though, and now I am here to help André and the rest of the staff. I want to provide a great contribution towards winning trophies because at Chelsea you have to win.
Does the fact you’re both young make a difference to the players?
It helps of course, but we cannot get too close to the players. During the season there are times when you have to make choices or decisions that, as a friend, you wouldn’t – or at least wouldn’t want to – but which have to be made for the good of the team and the club. It’s up to people to draw the line of professionalism. This applies to everyone, everywhere.
Which match are you most looking forward to this season, and why?
Manchester United is the first that comes to my mind, because you know immediately that against the Premier League champions it will be important in the fight for this year’s title. Manchester City will be a huge clash too because, as well as their threat, there is also the challenge of trying to beat my compatriot Roberto Mancini. As for me, of course I’d like to beat my former team, WBA. I was extremely surprised and disappointed to be relieved of my duties there.
What did you learn most from your time as manager of West Brom?
I learned once again that in football you can never be sure of anything. Everyone said West Brom do not sack managers, you see – and I was only the fourth boss they had had in nearly 11 years – but I still went. Football is the same all over the world, and when results do not go your way you will lose your job. But I am still grateful to WBA because they gave me a chance to manage in the Premier League. I learned to handle big names and big occasions, I had great teams and great players. I can only say thank you to WBA.
So, can Roberto help deliver the big prizes to Stamford Bridge, or will Roman Abramovich be scanning the Yellow Pages for another management team by February? Let us know by leaving a comment. And for sport, film and TV chit-chat, follow @tvfrombt on Twitter/tvfrombt.
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