The caretaker and the undertaker are hardly the Owl and the Pussy Cat, such romance is seldom found when it comes to the job of a temporary football manager. Managing in the Premier League can make or break a career, but when the opportunity arises for any young aspiring manager or coach to manage a Premier League side they would be a fool not to take it. That is what happened with both Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea and Terry Connor at Wolves; one story is actually shrouded in romance and the other in misery as both men were thrown in at the deep end and given tough tasks under very different circumstances.
Roberto Di Matteo has taken Chelsea to 7 wins in 9 games in all competitions, with a defeat to Manchester City and a draw with London rivals Spurs the only blots on ‘Robbie’s’ coaching manual. He inherited a team with problems that were created under Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) tenure, even though Di Matteo was assistant manager to AVB he still had a freshness about him when he took full control. The Di Matteo and AVB pairing was new, Di Matteo had to get used to AVB’s ways and his style of management the same way as the players did and therefore he was not too ingrained to not be able to take a step back and realise what needed fixing.
A squad like they have at Chelsea always has the potential to turn the corner; they have been there, done that and got the t-shirt when it comes to success in the Premier League. Roberto Di Matteo understood the old cliché that form is temporary, but class is permanent and to change things at Chelsea wasn’t rocket science. Di Matteo knew they just needed to get back-to-basics on the pitch and instill some harmony and belief off it. Di Matteo didn’t have to perform miracles and AVB’s departure gave those oppressed by his regime a natural lift. Di Matteo has it all going for him at Chelsea, but still deserves credit for the job he has done – Terry Connor at Wolves on the other hand faced a totally different scenario.
Connor was asked to step in after no suitable candidate was found following the sacking of Mick McCarthy and was left with a squad low on both confidence and quality. Connor had been McCarthy’s assistant manager for two thirds of Mick’s time in charge at Wolves, he had already played his part in where Wolves were at, but it was McCarthy’s head on the block. The problem is with someone so ingrained in the daily workings of a club in crisis is their impact when it comes to changing things is very limited. Nothing was new for Connor or fresh for the players other than him giving the teamtalks every match and picking the starting lineup – both of which he no doubt would have had a small hand in previously.
Under Connor Wolves’ fortunes have not improved, they lie 6 points adrift at the bottom of the league and even the players seem to have conceded that the Premier League dream is over as they struggle to come to terms with the departure of Mick McCarthy and fight amongst themselves. Connor and Di Matteo may have taken the reigns within just over a week of each other, but Connor’s record pails in insignificance having played 6, draw 1 and lost 5 with his team conceding 19 games along the way, that’s an average of conceding 3.16 goals per game, you would have hoped for at least one win!
It is parallel universe stuff for these two caretakers as Di Matteo is ready to lead his team in a FA Cup and Champions League Semi-final whilst still being alive in the league to battle for Champions League qualification – ‘cloud 9′ probably doesn’t do justice to how he is feeling. For Connor it is simply damage limitation as he watches Wolves crumble, but hopefully not his career.
The future looks bright for Di Matteo as he will probably go on to a full-time management job in the summer. Connor will no doubt be replaced come May and whether he fades back in to the background at Wolves or moves on to pastures new is anyone guess. Will Connor ever manage again? After this, he may not even want to.
This fairytale has come true for Di Matteo as the successful caretaker that bought success, but Connor’s task was impossible and his failure inevitable – he has gone from caretaker to undertaker verging on the edge of burying Wolves in the Premier League graveyard…it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.