London: Roberto di Matteo spoke Wednesday of his pride in having managed Chelsea after the club sacked him despite the Italian guiding the Londoners to their first Champions League title last season.
For all last term's success, which also saw the FA Cup come to Stamford Bridge, di Matteo was sacked Wednesday after a run of just two wins in eight games in all competitions culminating with Tuesday's 3-0 defeat by Juventus in Turin that left the club facing Champions League elimination at the group stage.
"It was an honour for me to be appointed manager of a club that I loved playing for and one that is so close to my heart," said di Matteo in a statement issued by the League Managers' Association late Wednesday that represented his first public response to his dismissal.
"I am extremely proud of the successes and trophies that we were able to bring to the club in recent months.
"Lifting Chelsea's first Champions League trophy, in Munich, was the best achievement in club history and without doubt the highlight of my career to date, both as a player and manager," said the former midfielder, who played in two FA Cup-winning teams.
"It is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life.
"I have a deep and unreserved passion for Chelsea Football Club and I would like to sincerely thank all of the staff, my players and of course the Chelsea fans, for their tremendous and unconditioned support in the intense time I have been the manager at the Bridge."
Prior to di Matteo's statement, Chelsea announced that former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez had been appointed as their "interim" first-team manager until the end of the season.
Di Matteo was the seventh manager sacked by Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich since he bought the club in 2003.
Jose Mourinho, now manager of Spanish giants Real Madrid -- who knocked English champions Manchester City out of the Champions League on Wednesday -- was fired by Abramovich in 2007 after failing to bring European club football's greatest prize to west London.
Mourinho, commenting on di Matteo's departure after a 1-1 draw at Eastlands that sent Real through to the last 16 at City's expense, told Sky Sports: "That's football.
"I am never happy when a manager is sacked. This is a feeling that nobody likes to have. But everybody knows I like Chelsea and I always support any Chelsea manager. It's the same thing I will do with the next manager."
However, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was scathing in his condemnation of Abramovich's decision to sack di Matteo.
"I find it surprising and very sad personally. I believe it is important on our side to show loyalty," Wenger said after Arsenal's 2-0 Champions League win over Montpellier on Wednesday.
"Di Matteo came in in a difficult situation and won the Champions League and FA Cup," the Frenchman, in charge of the Gunners since 1996, added.
"He did well and there wasn't even any time this season. It is a complete surprise and very sad news."
But former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said he'd just about come to terms with Abramovich's approach.
"I'm almost getting to the stage of thinking that Chelsea's hiring and firing is just their model, their method," Nevin told the BBC.
"Real Madrid would do it for years, but we're not used to it in Britain.
"This has been the most successful period in Chelsea's history, and maybe there's some method in their madness."