Roberto Di Matteo is close to being named Chelsea's full-time manager as reward for delivering the club's first European Cup, having agreed a contract in principle at Stamford Bridge that could amount to more than a one-year deal.
Talks are on-going between Di Matteo's representative and the club's hierarchy over the finer details of his employment though, despite Roman Abramovich's first choice Pep Guardiola potentially being available this time next year having embarked upon a 12-month sabbatical from the game after leaving Barcelona, the length of the contract on offer to the Italian is not thought to be an issue.
The 41-year-old, who has been working as interim first-team coach since March, is expected to sign an initial one-year deal with an option for a further season, with all parties confident agreement is close and a formal announcement anticipated in midweek. Di Matteo has been on holiday in the United States for the past fortnight but, with Guardiola not an option and interest having cooled in the likes of Harry Redknapp and Laurent Blanc, he will return eager to build upon the momentum gained at the end of last season.
Chelsea's recruitment department, headed by the technical director, Michael Emenalo, have moved to reshape their squad in his absence and still hope to add the £38m Brazil international Hulk from Porto having secured Lille's exciting midfielder, Eden Hazard, for around £32m. The Belgium international suggested he had spoken to Di Matteo before completing his move to London with further additions anticipated over the closed season.
Di Matteo, whose original contract as an assistant first-team coach was due to expire on 30 June, had taken up the reins following the dismissal of André Villas‑Boas in the first week of March. The Portuguese was sacked less than nine months after being prised away from Porto, at a cost of around £13.3m in compensation, with Chelsea already well adrift of the title race, facing an awkward FA Cup fifth‑round replay at Birmingham City and, most critically, heaving to remain in contention for the top four.
The likes of Rafael Benítez and Fabio Capello were sounded out by parties apparently working on Chelsea's behalf but, with neither willing to take over merely on a short-term basis, Di Matteo was duly promoted until the end of the season charged with securing qualification for next season's European Cup and recovering a 3-1 first‑leg deficit against Napoli in the knock-out phase of this season's Champions League.
The transformation of the team thereafter was staggering. While Chelsea did eventually slip from fifth to finish sixth in the Premier League – their lowest position since Abramovich purchased the club – as fatigue stretched even their squad over the final few weeks, their form rallied in the cup competitions. Liverpool were defeated at Wembley to secure a third FA Cup in four seasons, while Napoli and the holders Barcelona were eliminated in the Champions League, before the success against Bayern Munich in their own Allianz Arenalast month secured the trophy for the first time in Chelsea's history.
There were only three defeats in his 21 matches in charge, with Di Matteo displaying rare tactical acumen and diplomacy en route, from nullifying Barça to coaxing form from players who had previously been reduced to bit-part roles at the club. The squad duly united in public praise of his efforts, calling for him to be appointed on a full-time basis in the wake of the historic success in Munich, with those calls to be answered this week.
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image: © Jason Bagley