Whilst it might appear to be a futile exercise from the outside at least, it appears to be possible to at least make an educated projection as to the likely contenders for the Chelsea job.
It goes without saying that it would be a catastrophe of even grander proportions were Rafael Benitez to get the gig full-time, but for the sake of this exercise and our sanity, we shall presume that his Interim job title remains just that and nothing he can do this season will force Roman Abramovich’s hand otherwise.
By looking back at the hires made since he bought the club in 2003, however, we can begin to whittle down the contenders and come up with a relatively reasonable shortlist.
Abramovich has hired five permanent managers; Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo. It’s necessary to exclude the four interim managers – Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink, Di Matteo and Benitez – because none of them were ever explicitly hired for a role beyond their initial remit.
Two of them were in-house promotions, and the other two were (on the face of it) steady, experienced hands required to guide the team towards the end of the season, primarily required because there was no obvious backroom team member appropriate for the job.
To start with, all five permanent hires can be linked together through various criteria. They had all won at least one major trophy in their careers; Champions Leagues (three of them), Europa Leagues (two of them), or the World Cup (Scolari). They had also all done so from a marquee position; big clubs or countries on the biggest stage with the stakes at their highest.
It’s one thing taking a middling club to decent success, perhaps picking up a domestic trophy or two along the way, but in order to be considered for the Chelsea job it appears that any prospective candidate must have produced significant silverware with a notable club or country (ideally a club, of course).
They stand an even better chance if they can achieve this feat directly before joining the Blues. Mourinho, Villas-Boas and Di Matteo all did exactly this, and whilst there were stages where each were considered an outsider for the job, they put themselves in pole position by guiding their teams to glory.
They were also all young, effervescent, charismatic and (from the outside at least) tactically astute. Mourinho was 41, Di Matteo a year older when he was made permanent, and Villas-Boas a relative baby at just 33. We can say with a degree of confidence that Abramovich’s primary targets are likely to fall into this age range, and when combined with on-field success and off-field personality, a prototypical character begins to emerge.
If none of these options are available, however, we’ve seen the Russian and his colleagues turn to their alternative measures. Scolari was hired in 2008 and Ancelotti followed him a year later. In those seasons, the Champions League was won by unattainable managers in Sir Alex Ferguson (a non-starter for obvious reasons) and Josep Guardiola (was sought to no avail), whilst the Europa League fell into the laps of two veterans very happy in their well-paid jobs in Eastern Europe in Zenit St Peterburg’s Dick Advocaat and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Mircea Lucescu. Had they been at other clubs, they might have been considered more strongly, but neither were easily removed from their jobs, so instead the job was offered to different ‘veterans’ with experience and a top CV.
In 2011, Guardiola won the Champions League again and was, as usual, the object of Abramovich’s eye. With a move still off the agenda however, Villas-Boas became the obvious candidate as the Europa League champion.
By understanding what Abramovich appears to want, based on recent history, and how the process is likely to pan out depending on the rest of the season and manager availability, certain people emerge as realistic candidates.
The Preferred Candidates
Jurgen Klopp, Borussia Dortmund – A trendy candidate in every sense of the word, he has moulded Dortmund into one of Europe’s most attractive and well-liked teams. A sprightly 46 at the start of next season, he has charisma to burn, real leadership qualities, and would be able to provide the sort of style Abramovich is said to demand.
Antonio Conte, Juventus – The former midfield stalwart has been chiefly responsible for Juve’s return from Serie B to the top European table in double quick time. He’ll be just 44 at the start of the 2013-14 season and is a superb tactician, but may find it tough to leave a club he made over 400 league appearances for.
Diego Simeone, Atlético Madrid – In a little over a season at Madrid’s second team, he has turned Atlético into a Europa League champion which is threatening to repeat as well as being Barcelona’s closest challengers domestically. He has built a defensively brilliant team which has the remarkable Falcao in attack and a second crowning glory in Europe will see his name on everyone’s lips.
Andrea Stramaccioni, Inter – A former youth team coach given the reigns at the end of last season, the 37 year-old has quietly impressed with a younger, cheaper and remodelled Inter team. Still well in contention for a top three finish in the league, steering the Nerazzurri to the Europa League crown would put his name up in lights.
Frank De Boer, Ajax – Has only been in the job at Ajax for a short while but fits like a glove, having come through the club’s revered academy and returned to continue the famous production line in his retirement. Like Conte, he may feel too attached (and perhaps too inexperienced) for such a move, but if he is to lead them to a European trophy in their home stadium, it will likely have to come by beating Chelsea along the way, and as such becoming a clear commodity to the Blues’ hierarchy along the way.
The Experienced Backup Plans
Manuel Pellegrini, Málaga – the 59-year old has plenty of big time experience, chiefly with Real Madrid but also with a Villarreal side which reached the last four of the Champions League despite being tiny in stature. Has done a fine job of nursing a Málaga side stripped of key assets due to financial strife and has them well positioned at home and in Europe. Would likely jump at the chance of a final ‘big’ job.
Luciano Spalletti, Zenit St Petersburg – Has previously been courted by Chelsea, but without ever being a serious contender. An impressive tactician, he hasn’t had the opportunity to manage one of Europe’s really big teams (Roma were on a major downward curve during his time there) and again, would likely be very interested.
Walter Mazzarri, Napoli – A little younger than the others at 51, he is nonetheless suitably experienced and perhaps befitting of the term ‘wily’. Has taken a very good Napoli team an extremely long way but might question if he’s peaked with them, and should the Partenopei go deep into the Europa League, he could look elsewhere.
Carlo Ancelotti, PSG – Never say never right? If he is unable to guide PSG to the title this season, it will represent two campaigns without the league crown for the Parisiens and with such ambitious owners in charge, the axe would likely fall. He remains a well-liked figure at Stamford Bridge and would be welcomed back by many.
The Outsiders and Others
There are plenty of other managers left in continental European competition who could come into the reckoning but a lot of things would have to happen and the stars would truly need to align for some of them. Nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning the names of Ernesto Valverde, Vladimir Petkovic, Remi Garde and Jorge Jesus to keep in the outer consciousness.
By the same token it’s safe to rule many others out for various reasons; too old (Juup Heynckes, Fatih Terim, Mircea Lucescu), no tangible experience (Jens Keller, Neil Lennon), or simply never ever going to happen (Ferguson, Wenger, Vilanova). Furthermore, Premier League managers such as Michael Laudrup, David Moyes and Roberto Martinez are regularly linked but Abramovich has never shown a serious inclination to consider them, and each would likely be intelligent enough to realise that they would be hard-pressed to succeed having seen the club operate at close quarters. Things could change, however, and Chelsea could consider a change of approach.
There is, of course, one wildcard. Jose Mourinho. He’s 50, he might not win a single trophy this season and had an acrimonious departure in 2007. None of that would matter should he signal his desire to return though, for he would immediately become a leading candidate with his career record, and the fan reaction almost goes without saying. He doesn’t really fit into one of the above sections, but then what else should we expect from The Special One?
Some of these guys have been linked with the job already, others not so much. Mourinho and Klopp are regularly talked about, whilst someone like Simeone at 18/1 with the bookmakers represents good value as an outsider at this stage. It’s likely that the next manager of Chelsea Football Club comes from one of these candidates, and it makes the next three months of football across Europe all the more interesting.