If Roman Abramovich had the instincts of Simon Cowell – a prospect almost too terrible to contemplate, given the combination of ruthlessness and schmaltz it would unleash – Roberto Di Matteo would be installed immediately as Chelsea manager.
And then the fun would really start.
It would be a hugely popular move among Chelsea fans, and be approved by a misguided majority of football’s chattering classes. Di Matteo has lost only one of his first 13 games, and is definitely “one of us”. Dennis Wise would be kept under house arrest, to avoid offending impressionable neutrals, but Ray Wilkins would doubtless be wheeled on to congratulate “a very nice young man”.
The honeymoon period would be shrill and carefree, even if Barcelona exact appropriate revenge for the indignities endured at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. Di Matteo would be excused that setback if Liverpool are beaten in the FA Cup final. He’d just have to win the Champions League next season.
Bye bye, love. Hello reality.
A club like Chelsea, with pretensions to belong to the European elite, cannot be run on approval ratings. Bridge’s Got Talent might have a ring to it, but if Abramovich is swayed by sentiment, it will be the latest in a line of grotesquely expensive errors. He needs to offer the job to one of the big boys, such as Laurent Blanc or Joachim Low, once their respective Euro 2012 campaigns with France and Germany are complete.
That’s not to diminish Di Matteo’s impact, or the professionalism of familiar figures like Frank Lampard. But caretaker managers are products of circumstance and good fortune. They rarely have the substance to drive through regime change.
If Di Matteo does get the job, it will be a reaffirmation of the culture André Villas-Boas was employed to dismantle. The Portuguese might have been effortlessly airbrushed from Chelsea’s history, but his failure was not entirely self-inflicted. It highlighted fundamental issues which have yet to be addressed.
Keeping Di Matteo would give credence to whispered suggestions that John Terry is increasingly confident of fulfilling his long-term ambition, to manage the club he defines, for good or ill. Chelsea would remain in a time warp. That can’t be allowed to happen.