LONDON, December 18 – In search of the 10th manager of his 12-year tenure as Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich appears no nearer to his dream of owning a self-sustaining, crowd-pleasing football team.
Jose Mourinho, sacked on Thursday, came back to Chelsea in 2013 vowing to build a legacy, but he instead brought characteristic short-term success, followed by a staggeringly rapid collapse.
He leaves behind a squad full of underperforming big-name players such as Cesc Fabregas and Eden Hazard and in which highly regarded youngsters like Ruben Loftus-Cheek remain desperately short of top-level experience.
Abramovich is a known admirer of Pep Guardiola, who has given youth its head at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich and instilled playing systems based on intricate, passing football.
Guardiola, though, is tipped to join Manchester City, where owner Sheikh Mansour has stolen a march on Abramovich by installing the Catalan’s former Barcelona allies Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain.
Abramovich has been snubbed by Guardiola before and with Manchester United also felt to be a potential destination for the Bayern coach, the Russian may miss out on his man again.
After nine defeats in 16 league games, Chelsea’s squad is clearly in need of a jolt and it is therefore little surprise to see Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte high on the list of potential long-term successors.
Both coaches are passionate and relatively young (Simeone is 45, Conte 46) and exponents of aggressive, in-your-face football.
Neither would be afraid to ruffle feathers, but Simeone is under contract at Atletico Madrid until 2020 and Conte has his sights set on leading Italy into battle at Euro 2016.
Former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is another candidate, but in the short term Guus Hiddink is the leading contender to return to Stamford Bridge on an interim basis.
The Dutchman, 69, enjoyed success in a similar role in 2009, stepping in after the dismissal of Luiz Felipe Scolari and steering Chelsea to FA Cup glory, although his stock has fallen in the years since.
First-team coach Steve Holland could be asked to take charge for Saturday’s home game with Sunderland if an appointment cannot be made in time.
– Clean slate -Chelsea’s fans will mourn the departure of the club’s greatest manager, having noisily broadcast their support for Mourinho throughout recent games.
But former Liverpool midfielder Jamie Redknapp, cousin of Chelsea great Frank Lampard, believes the players will relish the chance of a clean slate.
“A lot of players who have fallen out with him will be pleased to see the back of him,” Redknapp said.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for someone coming in because make no mistake, whoever comes in, that club is going to fly now. They’re going to win a lot of games and in a way prove it’s not just about Jose Mourinho.”
Paris Saint-Germain await Chelsea in the Champions League in February, but the new manager’s immediate priority will be steering the club clear of the relegation zone.
Chelsea face four matches in 16 days over Christmas, with home games against Sunderland and Watford followed by trips to Manchester United and Crystal Palace.
Mourinho would have relished the December 28 trip to Old Trafford, but there are suggestions that, with Louis van Gaal still struggling to convince, he could find himself sitting in the home dug-out there before long.
“Louis van Gaal will be looking behind him,” former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson told Sky Sports News.
“If it doesn’t go well for Man United in the next week or two, I think they might look and think, ‘One of the best managers in the world of football is available. Let’s get him.'”
PSG and Bayern have also been touted as potential destinations for Mourinho, who could also be tempted by a return to Inter Milan.
In the meantime he retreats to the sidelines, just as he did in September 2007, when Abramovich’s vision for Chelsea caused their first parting of the ways. There is unlikely to be a third.