Abramovich basks in Chelsea victory
At Stamford Bridge
The sight of Roman Abramovich strolling across Stamford Bridge puffing out his cheeks in relief while exchanging high fives was about as close as Chelsea's owner has ever come to a public comment on club affairs.
Abramovich habitually retreats from view unless emerging to celebrate success or - in an example from more recent history - observing the work of Andre Villas-Boas at close quarters before sacking him.
At Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, he was en route to Chelsea's dressing room to deliver his personal approval and praise to players he recently lambasted for their part in the demise of the young Portuguese who was his personal choice to succeed Carlo Ancelotti.
What a difference a sacking makes.
Di Matteo's joy at the final whistle was unconfined. Picture: AP
Eleven days ago, there was gloom and discord leading to Villas-Boas's dismissal following defeat at West Bromwich Albion. But the transformation to the joyous scenes witnessed at the end of an unforgettable night in west London, as Chelsea clawed back Napoli's 3-1 lead from the first leg to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, was truly remarkable.
Caretaker manager Roberto di Matteo, a component of the failed Villas-Boas regime, was kept in place to enjoy one of the finest moments of his career, reacting to German referee Felix Brych's final whistle by racing on to the pitch and leaping straight into the arms of Didier Drogba.
It was Drogba's reward for a performance dragged from memories of his best moments - coupled with some of his worst theatrics - while Di Matteo's follow-up embrace of Fernando Torres appeared to come as quite a shock to the Spaniard.
All it needed was that victory walk across the turf by Abramovich followed by his meeting with Chelsea's players to confirm Stamford Bridge is suddenly a happier place.
It was an ecstatic place on Wednesday as the character, passion, commitment, resilience and grit that was kept hidden from view under Villas-Boas suddenly reappeared when Chelsea and Abramovich needed it most.
The Russian was a picture of relief and delight, relief because he removed Villas-Boas even though this key Champions League game loomed and saw Chelsea prevail and delight because suddenly the door is ajar for them in the Champions League.
To suggest they will win it is fanciful, but to suggest a kind draw offers them real hope of progress into the semi-finals is not.
Abramovich's relief also came from knowing that an exit in the last 16 would have been further illustration of the expensive price he has paid for the instability created by his hiring and firing of managers.
It was a performance and victory by Chelsea that posed further questions about how it all went so badly wrong under Villas-Boas. It also posed questions about the previous attitude of players who performed so limply under their previous manager and yet were able to turn the tap on again when facing Napoli.
Many would have paid more than a penny for the thoughts of Villas-Boas if he was watching this game while the wounds heal from his sacking. He may have wondered how he could have failed so spectacularly to coax a performance on this scale from Chelsea during his nine months at the club.
Even his rare high points such as wins against Valencia and Manchester City were nothing compared to this. It was hardly the sort of show designed to dispel the theory that Chelsea's players did not think a lot of Villas-Boas and stopped performing for him, something which invites criticism of the attitude and approach of both manager and players during that unhappy period.
If Chelsea's players deserve the praise of the owner and elated supporters for what they produced on Wednesday, then they also deserve the criticism and questioning of why they performed so poorly, so timidly, for so long this season.
Central to Villas-Boas' failure was his inability to get the best out of Chelsea's elder statesmen. He was wholehearted in his support of captain John Terry but seemed utterly unconvinced about Frank Lampard and at times appeared happy to see Drogba off the premises.
Yes there was a need for change and Villas-Boas was right in believing a new, younger Chelsea had to be fashioned but somewhere along the line the transition was mishandled.
All the questions were on hold as Chelsea celebrated a magnificent victory after an enthralling game in which Napoli's positive attitude under their electrifying coach Walter Mazzarri made a huge contribution.
This was a night when Chelsea proved there is life in the old guard yet. The key figures were Drogba, Terry and the indefatigable Lampard. Di Matteo has restored them, leaned on them and was rewarded with a magnificent morale-boosting win.
Drogba and Terry put Chelsea on the way, although their path was interrupted by Gokhan Inler's goal until Lampard's penalty forced extra-time and Branislav Ivanovic finished the job.
Di Matteo's animated celebrations summed up the night, although the victory - like the Italian's appointment until the end of the season - is a short-term cure for problems that will still have to be addressed in the long term.
All those key players were immense and showed they want a last hurrah in a tournament that has brought them little other than grief in these later stages, but the next man beckoned through the door by Abramovich will still have to plot for a future without them.
For now, though, Stamford Bridge was bathed in the sense of a team rediscovering a former identity. Chelsea had to draw on old resources here to survive against a very dangerous Napoli side, the celebrations at the conclusion more akin to winning the trophy itself rather than merely securing a place in the last eight.
It takes an almost impossible leap of the imagination to see Chelsea troubling Barcelona or Real Madrid but there is now an opportunity that looked far distant when they made a bedraggled retreat from the Stadio San Paolo in Naples.
Chelsea are England's last representatives in the Champions League, enabling the Premier League to avoid the ignominy of having no team in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1996 - an achievement in itself given the troubles of this season.
Realistically, they will not win the Champions League, but they are in there and entering familiar territory. Abramovich would have given a lot for that on the day he decided to dispense with Villas-Boas.
Put the pieces together and it is easy to see why Chelsea's owner cut a contented and relieved figure at the end of a wonderful night of football.