It was only two months ago that Chelsea handed their head reins to Roberto Di Matteo on an interim basis following the departure of Andre Villas-Boas. The latter had come under mounting pressure as the Blues entered the final stretch of the season in less-than-desired form. After only eight months in charge, overseeing what threatened to be the worst season since owner Roman Abramovich bought the club nine years ago, they turned to Di Matteo to revive their fortunes.
A former Chelsea midfielder himself, the Italian has overseen one of the most thrilling turnarounds in Europe this season, with the side suffering just two defeats in his 17 matches in charge thus far. Di Matteo assumed control of a club slipping in the Premier League standings and hanging by a thread in the UEFA Champions League. And while he has conceded that a top-four finish in the league is likely unattainable, he has already guided Chelsea to a fourth FA Cup in six seasons with a 2-1 win over Liverpool at the weekend, and is within reach of making history in the UEFA Champions League.
En route to booking a final against Bayern Munich at Allianz Arena on 19 May, Chelsea pulled off a shock victory over heavy favourites Barcelona in the semis largely thanks to Di Matteo’s defensive tactics. Now, while Chelsea near achieving unprecedented glory in Europe's most-prestigious club competition, Di Matteo is on the brink of success few interim managers have matched in history.
Hiddink previews Di Matteo
While temporarily steering a club to success can often prove too daunting a task, just as in Di Matteo’s case only a select few have been able to defy the odds. In fact, preceding Chelsea’s latest revival under Di Matteo, the club underwent a similar managerial change in the 2008/09 season. After a string of poor results, the Blues dismissed Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari, opting for then Russia coach Guus Hiddink. Taking Chelsea to the semi-finals of the Champions League, where they were knocked out in dramatic fashion by eventual winners Barcelona, the Stamford Bridge faithful pleaded for the Dutchman’s permanent appointment, but he instead chose to leave the club on a high note. During his three months in charge, Hiddink lost only one match, and in his last match in charge helped Chelsea to an FA Cup final victory over Everton.
Although Hiddink came up just short of reaching the final hurdle in the Champions League, caretaker Aston Villa manager Tony Barton led Aston Villa to a shock European Cup success over Bayern Munich in 1982. Although the triumph largely underwhelmed the greater European public, it marked an extraordinary achievement for a club competing in the tournament for the first time.
Germany's interim trio
Meanwhile, in 1986, just a few years after Barton’s reign at Villa came to an end, a relegation-threatened Cologne side parted ways with coach Georg Kessler and opted to appoint assistant coach Christoph Daum. With intentions to keep the young coach in charge only until the end of the season, Daum exceeded expectations by avoiding relegation from the Bundesliga, and went on to enjoy a permanent three-year stint with the club.
Current Germany boss Joachim Low is also among the Bundesliga coaching elite as he was named interim coach of Stuttgart just two days prior to the 1996/97 season's start. Low began his campaign with Die Roten with an impressive five straight victories, and soon became renowned for producing the most attractive football in the Bundesliga that season. With a trio of stars in Krasimir Balakov, Giovane Elber, and Fredi Bobic contributing to the team's appeal, Stuttgart ended up winning the DFB-Pokal and reaching the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1998 on Low’s watch.
Daum and Low don’t hold all the interim laurels in Germany, though, with 1974 FIFA World Cup™-winner Franz Beckenbauer enjoying two temporary spells as Bayern Munich coach. In 1994, Beckenbauer led the Bavarian outfit to the Bundesliga title, while in 1996 he famously took the reins from Otto Rehhagel just three weeks ahead of the UEFA Cup final - a tie in which they ending up defeating Bordeaux in convincing fashion.
In Scotland, meanwhile, former Celtic midfielder Neil Lennon returned to his old stomping ground for his first managerial gig in 2008 as manager of the club's reserves. The Northern Irishman had his sights set on the first-team job, though, and following Tony Mowbray’s departure in 2010 was appointed interim boss. Lennon won all the remaining league matches with Celtic that season, which included a defeat of bitter rivals Rangers, and was finally named head coach on a permanent basis.
In Norway in 2006, Knut Torum took over for Per-Mathias Hogmo at Rosenborg, and ultimately guided the club from ten points off the place to the title.
Highs to lows
However, while all these managers have bagged a trophy or two during their stints in charge, some interim-turned-permanent coaches have suffered ill fates. Turning to Argentina, both Sergio Batista and Juan Jose Lopez can attest to temporary spells gone wrong. Batista, who guided the Argentina U-23 team to gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008, took over the senior side from the out-of-contract Diego Maradona. Batista began his interim role in fine fashion, with a 4-1 victory over Spain and was soon appointed full-time boss. However, his success was short-lived. In his first competitive test, the Argentinians were shockingly eliminated in the Copa America 2011 quarter-finals by Uruguay and Batista was subsequently sacked.
Also in Argentina, River Plate interim coach Juan Jose Lopez endured one of the cruelest fortunes of all. After a promising start to his campaign with River, securing a fourth-place finish in the Torneo Apertura, Lopez oversaw the Buenos Aires giants' drop to the second division for the first time in the club’s history after a string of poor form in the proceeding Clausura saw them mired in a fight for survival. But, even though Batista and Lopez were certainly left to rue their misfortunes, only time will tell where Di Matteo's interim legacy will end on a high or on a low.