How Chelsea sacked Roberto Di Matteo in 2012 – and replaced him with Rafael Benitez


Since 2003, Chelsea have been a dominant force in English and European football. However, it was only in 2012 that he won his first Champions League trophy. Who was in charge then? Roberto Di Matteo.

This is a random answer to a trivia question: Who was Chelsea’s manager when they first won the Champions League? This is all the more baffling considering that players such as Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti failed to lead the club to such success.

And it was even more surprising that the Italian – who had a wonderful spell as a player at Chelsea – was only in charge on an interim basis. However, they did the unimaginable by defeating Bayern Munich in their own home.

After this he was assigned the job permanently. However, results declined and he was sacked. Chelsea, it is worth remembering, were at the time seen as a famously trigger-happy club.

But the fans felt something different. It wasn’t just the dismissal of a club legend; It was a club legend who gave the fans a trophy they had long craved.

To make things worse, he was replaced by former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez. The Spaniard was brought in on an interim basis until the end of the season.

However, his fractious relationship with the Stamford Bridge faithful made the 2012–13 season an absolute slog for both club and fans.

The truth is that anyone who could replace the beloved Di Matteo could struggle. But a manager who had ties to a club with whom Chelsea were at the time having bitterly hostile conflicts? Good luck making fans accept that decision.

And they never did. To mark exactly nine years since Di Matteo was sacked, let’s take a look back at what a tumultuous time it was for Chelsea.

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To understand why fans hate this decision so much, it’s worth looking at the circumstances under which Roberto Di Matteo got the job in the first place.

The 2011–12 season was a disappointing one for Chelsea. New manager Andre Vilas-Boas struggled to get results and even lost the dressing room.

His time at the job came to an end when Chelsea were beaten 3–1 by Napoli in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16. Di Matteo was put in temporary charge and tasked with changing the weather.

At that point, it would involve getting the team to win again and finish in the top 4. Results under Di Matteo were decidedly mixed, and Chelsea ended the Premier League season in 6th.

However, the aging side showed much positive progress in the FA Cup and Champions League. Not only did they overturn the deficit against Napoli, they then beat Benfica and Barcelona – the latter team by the skin of their teeth – to make it to the Champions League final.

And before that final, Di Matteo had won the club the FA Cup with a 2–1 victory over Liverpool in the final. Having said that, the main focus was on the Champions League.

Chelsea had nothing to lose – with the final set being held at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Bayern’s home ground, they were massive underdogs against a dominant Bayern Munich.

However, in an epic finale for the ages, Chelsea won the trophy on penalties. Di Matteo’s video to club owner Roman Abramovich “I won it!” Gleefully became a hit.

Given what he had achieved in his short time in charge, he was handed the job on a permanent basis in the summer on a two-year deal.

Time runs out quicker than expected for Roberto Di Matteo

His time at the helm of the club on a permanent basis, however, was far less stellar. Chelsea spent heavily in the transfer market after winning the Champions League. However, Di Matteo could not get the best out of his admittedly remarkable cast of attacking talent.

Wins against lower and mid-table opposition (Reading, Newcastle, Wigan Athletic) were often followed by poor results against top sides. Chelsea lost the FA Community Shield 3–2 to Manchester City, but the most humiliating loss came in the European Super Cup final to Atlético Madrid.

Radamel Falcao, then at the peak of his powers, ran into rough form as Chelsea fell to an embarrassing 4–1 defeat. But the final straw came when Chelsea lost 3–0 to Juventus, putting their chances of qualifying from the group in jeopardy.

That defeat came on November 20, 2012. Di Matteo was sacked a day later – and Benitez was brought on. And the furor from Chelsea fans didn’t stop until the end of the season.

Many felt that Di Matteo deserved more playing time; Others understood the decision, even if it hurt. But the club’s fans were united in their disdain for Benitez, who antagonized him at times during his time at Liverpool.

For the rest of the season, the Spaniard was greeted with chants of “Rafa out” from Chelsea fans. He stabilized the team, helping the team finish third and win the Europa League.

However, the Chelsea board also knew that employing him permanently was not an option. It helped that they had a better option – a returning Jose Mourinho.

Result

Chelsea tasted some success with Mourinho before he left in 2016. Benitez would also manage several clubs including Real Madrid and Newcastle United.

Di Matteo, however, never really recovered. He was paid by the club for the duration of his contract as the parties could not agree a deal. But his next two jobs were not good.

His time at German club Schalke 04 lasted less than a full season, as he joined in October 2014 and resigned in the summer. His time at Aston Villa was arguably the worst.

He was appointed in June 2016 but was ousted by October due to poor results. And he hasn’t returned to the managerial dugout since.

Nevertheless, he would always spend that night in Munich. As Chelsea fans would do.

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