Roberto Di Matteo, an ideal new challenge and forgetting about Chelsea

When you think of managers to have claimed glory in the Champions League in recent times, names such as Jupp Heynckes, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti spring to mind.

However, arguably the most significant success in Europe’s top tournament over the last decade was Chelsea’s unlikely triumph in 2011/12.

Although Didier Drogba and some of the players will be remembered for their role in securing success, Roberto Di Matteo’s impact on the West London club in his short eight-month tenure cannot be overlooked.

The Italian coach took over from André-Villas Boas in March 2012 on a caretaker basis and steered the Blues to glory, overcoming European powerhouses Barcelona and Bayern Munich along the way. Lifting the FA Cup was another welcome bonus.

The Champions League was, and remains, Roman Abramovich’s holy grail, with José Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Ancelotti amongst those to fail to deliver the ultimate prize.

However, with a team that on paper lacked the quality to compete at the highest level, Di Matteo immediately gained the respect of the squad and forged a collective identity that saw Chelsea become European champions for the first time.

The former Blues midfielder was shown the door only months after that famous night in Bavaria – after enduring a summer-long wait to see if he would even be given the job permanently, despite his unparalleled success.

Regardless of questionable form before being dismissed and a 3-0 defeat to Juventus the final nail in the coffin, Chelsea fans and players alike felt aggrieved at the treatment of Di Matteo by the Stamford Bridge powers that be.

Since being sacked by the Blues Di Matteo has been out of work, with none of the many rumoured new roles coming to fruition.

Now, almost two years after being shown the door in West London, Di Matteo has finally found a challenge at the required level to apply himself to, as he has replaced Jens Keller as head coach of Schalke.

The Gelsenkirchen outfit have failed to reach their potential in recent times, with the club seen by many as the natural challengers to perennial top dogs Bayern and Borussia Dortmund.

Roberto Di MatteoAn ardent fanbase, a squad full of international quality and an enviable youth system are the evident ingredients for success – but overcoming Germany’s top two, especially Bayern, will be a monumental task.

Die Roten look just as ominous as in previous years and it appears to be a matter of when rather than if Bayern will win the Bundesliga this term.

However, with Jürgen Klopp’s men suffering a slow start to the campaign, the Champions League spots are fair game and Schalke should be deemed as a real challenger despite struggling in their first seven games.

For Di Matteo, the full backing of his new employer will make a welcome change from seemingly being continually undermined by Abramovich at Chelsea.

If given time and the opportunity to mould a team, the Italian could well be the man to spearhead a new serious challenger in the German top flight title race.

This term the goals must be again to finish in the top four, while progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League is well within reach if Schalke can claim a couple of positive results against Sporting Lisbon and Maribor.

However, Di Matteo’s objectives should be viewed on a longer-term basis, with every chance that his Schalke side can be in the title race in forthcoming seasons.

After not being given a fair crack of the whip at Chelsea, it is a new dawn for Di Matteo in Germany.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo,, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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