Chelsea’s Next Manager – Who’s In the Running?

Chelsea Football Club have had a tumultuous relationship with their long line of managers – will the next man to step up finally implant a long-lasting legacy?

On May 20th, 2013, Chelsea Football Club will depart ways with yet another manager, their tenth in less than ten years, and, remarkably, the 8th since that fateful day when Jose Mourinho first said his goodbyes to Stamford Bridge back in September 2007.

8 managers have come and gone since that day. Despite one winning the Champions League, none of them have met the preposterously high standards that Roman Abramovich demands of his leading men. Roberto Di Matteo clearly surprised everyone, and, after winning the Champions League against Bayern Munich in 2012, many thought Roman had finally found his man – the man who could bring him that ever elusive, ever alluring Champions League trophy. But, as it turns out, Roberto was treated possibly more harshly than even any of his predecessors. Off to a roaring, smashing start to the league, Roberto was come undone by a few frail showings, such as a 2-1 loss at home to West Bromwich Albion and, the coup de grace, the 3-0 loss away to Juventus. The sacking seemed incredibly harsh at the time, and it still seems harsh now, particularly when compared to Rafael Benitez’s subsequent stint with the Blues in which he’s achieved an inferior record in the league – consider that Chelsea were 4 points off the league leaders when Roberto Di Matteo was sacked, and under Benitez, right now, they are 20 points off the top.

Perhaps all of this extreme impatience and impetuosity from Abramovich is attributable to his personal regret at falling out with the Special One, Jose Mourinho, and dismay that no-one since has quite captured the public’s imagination like Jose did. Under Jose they were a truly feared team – they obliterated all opposition in the 2004/05 season he oversaw, accruing a record 95 points total in the league and failing only to a solitary Liverpool strike in their Champions League semi final. Since then they have won trophies and crushed opposition, but not quite to the same brutal level of almost infallible dominance they reached under Jose.

So, then, as the Interim One says adios come this May, and Chelsea fans the world over celebrate his departure, who will be the next man to step into the blindingly bright spotlight at one of London’s biggest clubs?

Recent media activity seems to suggest that there are two leading candidates – Manuel Pellegrini, the 59 year old Spaniard who recently lead Malaga to an extraordinary Champions League campaign – and an extraordinarily unlucky exit, and Jose Mourinho, the man who perhaps Roman Abramovich wishes he never let go in the first place.

Perhaps Roman is leaning towards Jose, though, simply because whilst Manuel Pellegrini is undoubtedly touted as one of the world’s best managers, Roman has already churned through a line of world class managers – think Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelloti – and Jose is the only one who you can almost guarantee will bring at the very least domestic success and more likely than not, European success as well.

Manuel Pellegrini would be more of a risk, as despite more than moderate success in Spain, he is completely unproven in the English game, and Chelsea have already faltered far more than they would have liked in the domestic game in recent years. Another transitional year for them with a manager struggling to adapt could see them yet again struggle to make the top 4 and make Roman’s trigger finger itchier than ever. Indeed, if they are really considering Manuel Pellegrini, one has to ask the question – why not just stick with Rafa Benitez? Yes, Rafa is still disliked by many at Stamford Bridge, but his results have been improving, certain players are finally coming to life (Torres) and his CV is still more impressive than Pellegrini’s. It seems rather likely Benitez’s next season at Chelsea, if he were given one, would be significantly more successful than this one, given a full pre-season to work with and a fresher, rested squad.

Bookmakers agree, and place Jose Mourinho as the huge favourite to take over the Blues next season at odds of just ½. The papers across Europe are also all starting to suggest that Mourinho is indeed the man again, with Le 10 Sport suggesting that Chelsea are in advanced contract negotiations and a 3 year deal is very, very close. Jose himself has been giving none-too-subtle hints all throughout the season that he is planning a return to England, saying he ‘loves everything about the Premier League’ and ‘it would be his next step’. For much of the reason, pundits were leaning towards him taking the coveted spot at Manchester United, assuming Sir Alex were to retire, but it seems for now at least, this isn’t happening, with Jose recently suggesting ‘I don’t believe (I will take over the Manchester United job). I think we have to end our career at the same time. Ferguson at 90 and me at 70’. With Roberto Mancini looking likely to keep his position at Manchester City, enjoying a respectable finish to the league season and a possible FA Cup victory in the bag, it leaves open just one viable spot – Chelsea, the place of his first remarkable English adventure.

There are potentially other managers in the running, of course, such as Everton’s David Moyes, who for nearly ten years now has probably overachieved at a club restrained by its spending power and finances, yet who have been regularly competing with the country’s elite in the top 6 positions. Of course, he still hasn’t won a trophy though, and his lack of continental and European experience will probably rule him out in the eyes of Roman Abramovich. There’s also Guus Hiddink, who managed to get Chelsea playing some very impressive football in his short stint in charge in 2009, losing only one game in the process, winning the FA Cup and losing in the Champions League in THAT game against Barcelona which will set the standard for worst referring performances for a long, long time to come. He did, however, sign a contract to manage Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala only last year, however, if Roman really wants him, he can probably make it happen.

Of the leading contenders, then, it’s Jose who is the undeniable favourite. He left in 2007 due to reportedly being unhappy with the Chelsea board calling a crisis meeting after an indifferent start to that season, and if he returns one could probably assume he wants an unfettered promise this time that his methods will not be questioned again by the board; no reaching for the execution pistols if the team happen to suffer a minor dip in form. Or perhaps it’s Jose who came crawling back, the flattering idolatry shown by the English media far preferable to the Spanish media which it seems is constantly trying to undermine him and his achievements with Real Madrid. Either way, whoever takes charge at Chelsea next year will have a phenomenal team to work with, with two of the brightest young talents in Europe currently at the Blues in Eden Hazard and Oscar. They also have probably the most in-form player in world football outside of Ronaldo and Messi, in Juan Mata. If Jose returns to Stamford Bridge, though, you would be a brave man to bet against them winning the Premier League again.

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