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Chelsea Fires Villas-Boas, Names Di Matteo as Interim Manager

Chelsea fired manager Andre Villas-Boas after eight months in charge, as the west London soccer team slipped further back in the race for England’s final Champions League slot.

Billionaire owner Roman Abramovich, who hired the Portuguese manager as Chelsea’s youngest coach in June, yesterday named former player Roberto Di Matteo to run the team until the end of the Premier League season.

“The results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season,” read a statement on Chelsea’s website.

Chelsea’s decision came after a 1-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion two days ago. The Blues are in fifth place in the standings, out of the qualifying spots for Europe’s elite club competition, which they’ve competed in for the past nine seasons.

Villas-Boas joined the club after winning the second-tier Europa League in his first season at Porto. Abramovich, who has used eight coaches since 2004, hired the 34-year-old to try to win the Champions League. Di Matteo, 41, is a former Chelsea midfielder and ex-coach of West Brom.

Chelsea plays Birmingham in an F.A. Cup replay tomorrow and must overcome a 3-1 deficit against Napoli to stay in the Champions League when the sides meet March 14. Villas-Boas’s team had one win -- against 19th place Bolton -- in its last seven games, a run that included a 3-3 home draw with Manchester United after leading 3-0.

“The club is still competing in the latter stages of the Champions League and the F.A. Cup, as well as challenging for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and we aim to remain as competitive as possible on all fronts,” Chelsea said in the statement. “With that in mind we felt our only option was to make a change at this time.”

Benitez, Mourinho

U.K. bookmaker William Hill rates former Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez as the favorite to permanently replace Villas-Boas, with ex-Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho a 3-1 shot to return. That would mean a successful $1 bet would return $3 plus the original stake. Mourinho, who’s currently at Real Madrid, is the favorite to be in charge at Stamford Bridge at the start of next season, according to Coral Racing Ltd.

“Given Roman Abramovich’s track record, Andre Villas-Boas’s exit is perhaps not that surprising,” Coral spokesman David Stevens said in an e-mailed statement. “But with no obvious long-term plan in place at Stamford Bridge, the betting to replace Villas-Boas is wide open.”

Di Matteo

Di Matteo, who joined Chelsea in 1996 for a then-club record 4.9 million pounds ($7.8 million), scored in the team’s defeat of Middlesbrough in the 1997 F.A. Cup final. He was part of the squads that won the European Cup Winners Cup and League Cup in 1998, and the 2000 F.A. Cup.

The Swiss national retired at age 31 after breaking his leg in three places. He became coach of the Milton Keynes Dons in July 2008, with the English League One club reaching the playoffs in his first season. He joined West Brom in 2009 and got the club promoted to the Premier League in his initial campaign. He was replaced in February 2011.

Chelsea has struggled to retain coaches under Abramovich.

Claudio Ranieri was dismissed in May 2004 in his fourth season and replaced by Mourinho, who won the league in two of his three seasons in charge. The Portuguese coach quit after a disagreement with Abramovich, who hired Avram Grant in 2007.

Former Brazil and Portugal national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari started in July 2008, though he didn’t complete a season before being fired and replaced by interim manager Ray Wilkins and then Guus Hiddink.

Dismissed After Double

The Dutchman didn’t take the full-time job as he was still overseeing Russia’s national team, and Abramovich brought in Carlo Ancelotti. The Italian, who led Chelsea to the F.A. Cup and Premier League double for the first time in the club’s history, was dismissed in May 2011.

Villas-Boas never played soccer professionally, and got his coaching qualifications when he was 17. Former England national coach Bobby Robson picked him to work with Porto’s youth-team coaches, and then Villas-Boas joined the staff of Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter Milan.

In Villas-Boas’s only season in charge, Porto won the country’s Supercup, the Portuguese Cup, the Europa League and the domestic championship, not losing a league match all season.

“You need to bring results and good football, this is the target of Chelsea,” Grant, who took the Blues to the Champions League final in 2008, told Sky Sports News. “It’s a club that’s spent a lot of money to achieve the best so every time you are losing games there are some problems about this. I think in this case he was lacking a little bit of experience.”

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