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FA CUP: Player power prevails


Ageing stars give Di Matteo the thumbs up

LONDON: ROBERTO Di Matteo insists Chelsea are  reaping the rewards of his bold decision to embrace the player power that  forced Andre Villas-Boas out of Stamford Bridge.   

Di Matteo took over as Chelsea's interim manager after Villas-Boas was  sacked following a brief, miserable reign scarred by constant rumours that he  was engaged in a power struggle with John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and  Didier Drogba.

   Villas-Boas often dropped Lampard and caused a major stir when he also axed  Michael Essien and Cole for the Champions League last 16 first leg defeat to  Napoli.

   But in the end the young Portuguese coach couldn't win his battle with the  cabal of aging stars who have developed significant influence with owner Roman  Abramovich.

   With Di Matteo only in charge until the end of the season, there was  already speculation that Terry and company had stepped into the power vacuum  and were effectively running the team.

   That impression was strengthened when television pictures showed Terry  standing just behind Di Matteo on the touchline and appearing to urge Essien to  drop back into defence during Wednesday's 4-1 Champions League triumph over  Napoli.

   But Di Matteo, who will look to extend his 100 percent record as Blues  manager when Chelsea host Championship club Leicester in the FA Cup  quarter-finals  today, is adamant the likes of Terry rightly have an input  into how the team is run.

   "I've had a long playing career myself at the highest level," the former  Chelsea midfielder said.

   "I've been coaching for some years now as well and I expect everybody to be  involved and everybody to help each other on the pitch and the ones that are on  the bench, and that's what I believe in.

   "I think John is still too young to be a manager though. I can help him  with his coaching badges maybe first.

   "He's got so many years ahead of him playing and I would always recommend  to any players to play as long as they can, because that's the best part of a  footballing career."

   With an important midweek Premier League clash against Manchester City  looming, Di Matteo could be tempted to rest key players against a second-tier  team like Leicester, even with a semi-final at Wembley up for grabs.

   But he knows a replay would not only be embarrassing but would also present  serious problems with the team's already packed fixture list.

   It could mean a run of five games in 12 days and nine in 23 and Di Matteo  said: "It's going to be difficult. As it is, it's very congested already."    

Meanwhile, Leicester boss Nigel Pearson has warned Chelsea that his side  are confident of claiming a famous scalp.

   Leicester have underachieved in the Championship despite heavy investment  from the club's Thai owners and the FA Cup represents their last chance to make  this a memorable campaign.

   And Pearson, who played in the Middlesbrough team beaten 2-0 by Chelsea in  the 1997 FA Cup final -- a game which featured a goal from then Blues  midfielder Di Matteo, said: "Anything can happen on the day. Of course I  believe we can move forward.

   "We have got to be at our best, there is no doubt about that. You have to  respect whoever you are playing.

   "We want to go and give a good account of ourselves and cause some  problems. Clearly we have to catch them on a not so good day and we've to be at  our best.

   "I still think it is a fabulous opportunity for the players to show what  they can do and we've earned our place in the quarter-finals."   AFP

Chelsea's Frank Lampard celebrates with coach Roberto Di Matteo at the end of the Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Napoli at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday. AFP pic

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