Out with Di Matteo, in with Benitez
It's been a long standing quote that a week is a long time in football. In this case, in fact, it was five days ─ from last Saturday to this Wednesday.
The Saturday brought the mouthwatering North London derby and its share of controversy. As the commentator said, "It had to be him," Adebayor sent off when Spurs seemed to have a better hand in the clash.
Traditionally, the clash of Arsenal with Tottenham Hotspurs is only second to the Liverpool derby and players being sent off is fairly common. Adebayor ─ once of Arsenal, and loved in the Islington area ─ is now almost hated there, and loved at Spurs in White Hart Lane instead. But, now, to ask whether he was victim or villain is irrelevant. He is one of those who come from the old-fashioned maverick school and thus create controversies wherever he goes in today's more structured world.
Later in the day, Manchester United lost at Norwich. This was a bit unexpected, but again it is something that does happen a few times in the season. That still remains the charm of the EPL, even though it is less common than a few decades ago. But the real drama was being played out at West Bromwich. Little did we know of it at the time.
Chelsea commenced the season as Euro and FA Cup champions, and with new recruits, carried the swagger into this season. For the first two months they were dominant, but the new style and team were both very narrow compared to previous Chelsea teams. Also, Torres looked uneasy carrying the weight of 50 million pounds sterling in front of goal.
The squad, week in week out, functioned with around 14-15 players. Di Matteo's inexperience as manager showed there. Ferguson, Wenger and Benitez would all have told him to keep 20 plus players involved, otherwise tiredness will set in.
At West Bromwich, who surprisingly are upbeat this season, Di Matteo paid the price. His team looked tired, narrow and Torres-strained.
Chelsea lost! That happens, but it was the manner in which it happened.
You could smell uneasiness immediately...and by the evening, the first speculation had hit the networks:
Is Di Matteo about to lose his managers role?
How can this be? Back in May, this man was lifting the European Cup and the Football Associations Challenge (FA) Cup ─ the first is the most prized club trophy in the world, and the second oldest.
There are not too many men around who have lifted both. Ferguson, Benitez, Mourinho and from previous decades Paisley and Busby. Even the great Brian Clough missed out on that record. Only Ferguson, Benitez, Paisley and Busby have done it for the same club.
So Di Matteo must be safe, right? Madness could not have progressed that far surely?
Sunday, the blogs were rife with the rumours. By Monday, the writing was on the wall. The pressure was being transferred to Turin. What an awful calamity for Di Matteo, that Chelsea had to go to Turin and face Juventes (the Old Lady).
Here was Chelsea fighting for survival in the Euro Championship, and to do it at the home of one of Europe's traditional giants, with the manager under the cosh, was the outside of enough.
And so it happened. Juve 3, Chelsea 0.
Within hours of the defeat, Di Matteo was on his way, banished from his home without nary a thanks by owner Roman Abramovich; the seventh man to be dismissed in nine years.
But wait, who to replace him?
They interviewed Benitez, who smiled and said he did not know anything. Guardiola was also approached and made clear in his answer, not before the summer, as he is on a sabbatical from football. So now that Chelsea has hired Benitez, can you predict what will happen to one of the great managers in the world today? He will likely become the eighth managerial casualty in 10 years at Chelsea.
Watch out, Benitez.
That, my friends, is a week in football, as stated by many. But is it right? Today's psychology of 'winner-takes-all', is killing sport. Sport was to be enjoyed, and then if you won, it was icing on the cake. Here, football has become a must-win sport, but in the English Premier League (EPL) only some 23 clubs have ever been champions in 125 years of history.
In the Euro Cup, only 22 clubs have won in 57 years of history. So what about the rest? If we do not have also-rans then how do we have sport ─ sport which is loved and supported over the whole world? Not possible! The game would die, as those expecting wins will stop watching also-rans play and very soon the spectator, corporates and money will drift out of the game.
This is the bed we are making to lie on, and it only leads to the death of the game. FIFA needs to look at this 'winner-takes-all' mentality and change it fast. Before long, I can see the resurrection of the Big 14 league, which danger declined some ten years ago.
Fourteen clubs in a Euro League and all the other 1000 clubs will die. Watch out people! All you Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Barcelona supporters are killing the game by your endless expectations and by tweeting and Facebooking your clamour to the rest of the world. Look beyond your nose and think further afield.
Please spare a thought for the poor manager who always becomes the first casualty.
Indeed, a week in football is a long time.
Read more by Sarfaraz here or follow him on Twitter @sarehman