Roberto Di Matteo once again proved he is the man with the Midas touch at Wembley when he guided his side to a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the FA Cup final on Saturday.
Chelsea’s interim manager scored the opening goal inside the first minute when the Londoners beat Middlesbrough in the 1997 final and he returned to the famous stadium three years later to grab the winner in Chelsea’s 2000 final victory over Aston Villa.
Goals from Brazilian Ramires and Ivorian Didier Drogba helped Di Matteo notch a notable Wembley hat-trick, although his side had to hang on grimly for the last 26 minutes after substitute Andy Carroll pulled a goal back for Liverpool.
“I don’t think many people have had the opportunity I have had,” Di Matteo told reporters after Champions League finalists Chelsea lifted the FA Cup for the fourth time in six years.
“I’m fortunate enough to have played for the club and won the trophy and today I led the players out ... not many people get that chance,” he said.
Di Matteo took over as interim manager when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March and the Italian has sparked a remarkable turnaround in fortunes at Chelsea, who seemed to be on a road to nowhere under his Portuguese predecessor.
“I’m very happy,” the former Italy midfielder said. “We’ve had a very difficult season and a lot of criticism.”
“Our record against Liverpool hasn’t been the best,” Di Matteo added in reference to two defeats earlier in the season in the English Premier League and League Cup. “We played very well for the majority of the game and scored two nice goals as well.”
Drogba also continued a golden run at Wembley — his goal was his eighth in eight appearances at the stadium.
Chelsea, though, had to soak up almost half an hour of intense Liverpool pressure in the same way they resisted Barcelona’s onslaught in the Champions League semi-final last month.
“I know you guys focus on the goalscorers, but the defense did really well to keep Carroll at bay and also [Luis] Suarez,” said Di Matteo who added that Villas-Boas should receive some credit for starting the FA Cup run.
However, he again refused to be drawn to speak on his own future at the club.
“It’s irrelevant,” Di Matteo said. “I’m very pleased with my position until the end of the season and then we’ll make a decision that is best for the club and we’ll all respect it.”
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said his team were too jittery in the first half.
“I think we were just a wee bit nervous,” he said. “Chelsea are thoroughbreds and have been through it before.”
“You can’t lose two goals in that fashion and expect to win the cup, but we were excellent for the last half hour,” the Liverpool manager added. “It’s credit to the lads that they did get close to an equalizer after the goal from Carroll, but we gave ourselves too much to do.”
“Chelsea had a little bit of good fortune to deny us an equalizer, but credit to them, they have a lot of experience. We’ve just got to learn our lessons from it and understand we can’t start games like that,” Dalgish said.
The teams will meet again in the Premier League tomorrow, while Chelsea take on Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May 19.