LAST STRAW: Roberto di Matteo reacts during  Chelsea’s Champions League 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin on Tuesday. Di Matteo was sacked the next day and Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim manager. Picture: REUTERS
LAST STRAW: Roberto di Matteo reacts during Chelsea’s Champions League 3-0 loss to Juventus in Turin on Tuesday. Di Matteo was sacked the next day and Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim manager. Picture: REUTERS

LONDON — Chelsea’s madcap managerial merry-go-round spun for the umpteenth time on Wednesday when Roberto di Matteo, who guided the club to Champions League glory just six months ago, was sacked.

Chelsea announced on Wednesday that Rafael Benitez had been appointed their interim first-team manager until the end of the season.

Winning Europe’s elite club competition had been a burning desire for Roman Abramovich since the Russian billionaire took over as the owner at Stamford Bridge in 2003.

Di Matteo found the "Holy Grail" against all the odds in May but Tuesday’s 3-0 reverse at Juventus, which leaves Chelsea on the brink of Champions League elimination, prompted Abramovich to end the reign of his eighth manager at the club.

"The team’s recent performances and results have not been good enough and the owner and board felt a change was necessary now to keep the club moving in the right direction as we head into a vitally important part of the season," the club said on their website.

Chelsea, who have won only two of their last eight games in all competitions, said they would be making an announcement shortly on a new manager, with bookmakers listing former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez and former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola as early favourites.

"The club faces a difficult task ahead in qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League as well as maintaining a strong challenge for the top of the Premier League while competing in three other cup competitions.

"The owner and the board would like to thank Roberto for all he has done for the club since taking over in March.

"Roberto helped guide us to an historic Champions League victory and a seventh FA (Football Association) Cup."

Di Matteo was assistant coach before taking over the first team in a caretaker capacity when Portuguese Andre Villas-Boas was sacked in March and he helped turn a mediocre season into a great one.

The Italian inherited a team 3-1 down to Napoli in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League but he inspired a thrilling fightback in the second leg.

Chelsea then knocked out Benfica in the quarterfinals before beating overwhelming favourites Barcelona in the semis and defeating Bayern Munich at home in Germany on penalties in the final.

Reuters