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Chelsea plans for future as European champion
MUNICH (AP) - Chelsea can plan its future from an unexpected position of strength as champion of Europe following its dramatic upset of Bayern Munich.
Roman Abramovich has the Champions League trophy he had craved since buying the club in 2003 and a place in next season's competition, which is key to the team's business plan and status among Europe's elite teams.
Now the Russian billionaire and his advisers must decide if Chelsea's immediate future includes new contracts for inspirational interim coach Roberto di Matteo and star forward Didier Drogba.
The 34-year-old Drogba staked an emphatic claim to extend his eight-year stay on Saturday with an 88th-minute header that made a one-sided match at 1-1. He then stroked the decisive penalty kick in the shootout at Bayern's home stadium.
Di Matteo could hardly do more during his three-month audition since being promoted from assistant following the firing of Andre Villas-Boas. He has the most coveted club trophy in world soccer as well as the FA Cup.
"Roberto is certainly in the mix and he's done a great job for us and he has to have serious consideration," Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said Sunday. "We've put (the appointment) aside for the last five to eight weeks. Now in the next few weeks we have to sit down, figure it out and do what's best for Chelsea."
The American official said chief executive Ron Gourlay will speak with Drogba's agent this week.
"There's a number of things we've got to look at and we'll review where we are and take it from there, but it's a phenomenal turnaround really," Gourlay said.
Chelsea's players were united in their praise for Drogba after another unlikely win to follow the elimination of Barcelona in the semifinals.
"Of course, Didier is one of the best strikers in the world," said Chelsea forward Juan Mata, whose opening penalty kick was saved in the 4-3 shootout win. "He is very important for us. He scored a really important goal, so he deserves everything."
Drogba's financial demands would have been an expensive luxury had Chelsea lost and failed to qualify for next season's Champions League.
Chelsea earned about $77 million in prize money from competition organizer UEFA this season. Even a one-year exile in the second-tier Europa League would hit the club's accounts as "financial fair play" rules limit wealthy owners' ability to bail out clubs that spend heavily on transfers and salaries.
Abramovich has subsidized total losses of more than $1.2 billion, but Chelsea must generate more income than has been possible at its 42,000-capacity Stamford Bridge stadium.
"They need to do two things in the short term," says soccer finance analyst Kieron O'Connor, who writes the respected Swiss Ramble blog. "Improve commercial revenue through additional sponsorships; reduce the wage bill by offloading some of the more expensive players. Longer term it's all about the stadium."
Chelsea officials reportedly held recent meetings in Qatar to explore funding options. That follows a trail blazed by Barcelona, which signed a five-year shirt sponsorship deal with the spectacularly wealthy Gulf emirate.
Abramovich's admiration for Barcelona, on and off the field, hints at Chelsea's next steps. He is said to covet the Spanish club's former coach Pep Guardiola, who has left soccer after shaping the most admired team of modern times.
Guardiola seems unlikely to be tempted back so soon, even with Chelsea entering the Champions League and FIFA's Club World Cup for continental champions played in Japan in December.
Abramovich's desire for expansive, exciting soccer explained the hiring of Villas-Boas and the $80 million signing of Fernando Torres in January 2011. Torres was used as an impact substitute again in Munich.
The progressive young Portuguese coach unsettled Chelsea's old guard. He dropped Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole for the season-changing defeat to Napoli in a round-of-16, first-leg match in February.
Villas-Boas was doomed by that 3-1 loss in Italy. Yet those same players helped Chelsea win the return 4-1 for Di Matteo, and guided the team to its Champions League title more through dogged resistance than flowing play.
Bayern had 35 shots to Chelsea's nine, and 20 corners to just one, which Chelsea used to great effect. Mata's delivery was powered into the net by Drogba.
It was a triumph in true Chelsea style, and could yet prove the end of an era.
Buck said the club intends to appoint a permanent manager before a pre-season tour of the United States that starts against Seattle Sounders on July 18.
Di Matteo spoke with Abramovich in Munich's Allianz Arena but did not reveal details of the conversation.
"He looked very happy," the 41-year-old coach said. "Whatever the future holds for me I'd be happy. Whatever the club decides, I'll respect it."
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