The mood around Stamford Bridge changed dramatically yesterday as news from Germany broke to ruin their day. Inside Chelsea’s home ground, a Russian billionaire sat fuming in his chair after his number one target for manager, Pep Guardiola decided against joining him at Chelsea in favour of a stint in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. The Spaniard was formally confirmed by the club yesterday as Jupp Heyneckes successor when he steps down as manager at the end of the season. It ruins Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s master plan, which started by firing Roberto Di Matteo in November, then hiring Rafa Benetiz as a stop-gap until the end of the season, at which point he would step aside, just in time for Guardiola to waltz in and take over. Now, faced with the possibility of retaining a manager that the fans don’t like, Abramovich will be trying to work out how to fix his master plan in order to keep Chelsea in the hunt for both domestic and European honors. But the current Champions League holders may struggle to find a coach of Guardiola’s calibre and one who is willing to take over, given Abramovich’s past history for meddling in the first team and sackings of previous bosses.
Benetiz is unlikely to retain the job beyond the summer unless he wins something of value to Abramovich. Already eliminated from the Champions League and down 2-0 after the first leg of League Cup double-header against Swansea, the only hope for a trophy would be either the FA Cup, Europa League or the Premiership. Out of the three, the Premiership trophy is the only one truly valued by Abramovich but already fourteen points off the pace, it will be extremely difficult for Chelsea to catch up to the two sides from Manchester. If indeed Benetiz card is marked, who realistically would take over?
The Italian coach, who lead his country to World Cup success in 2006, is currently in charge of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, having joined them in May last year on a two and a half-year deal. He has already managed to deliver the title and the Chinese FA Cup in his first season and is planning for the start of the new season in March, but may be tempted to quit his Chinese adventure for a shot in the Premiership. Lippi would have the pedigree and experience that Chelsea need as they plan a complete revamp of their first team squad and would supply funds to Lippi to do so. The challenge for the 64-year-old, who has coached for most of his career in Italy, would be dealing with Abramovich but this shouldn’t be an issue as Lippi has dealt with more than his fair share of pushy owners in his day. Guangzhou’s owners would demand a considerable fee for their talent coach but this is not likely to deter Abramovich especially if he feels Lippi is the right man for the job.
The former France manager, who is currently out of work, having left the national team job in the summer, is another potential candidate. As a player, Blanc experienced life in the Premiership with a short stint at Manchester United and would love to return to England one day if the job was right for him. Having led Bordeaux to the French title in only his second season in charge before leaving to coach the French national team, Blanc has made a strong start to his managerial career and would likely be seen as an interesting choice for Chelsea. But rumours surrounding Blanc’s next move have him replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in the summer rather than going across London to Stamford Bridge so the Chelsea owner may have a fight on his hands if he wants to land him.
A fans favourite during his time at Chelsea, a return to the managerial hot seat will likely go down with the former Italian internationalist and the fans. But without a real managerial pedigree, Zola may not get the opportunity as Abramovich looks to bring in a bigger name than him. Zola has had limited success as a club manager which is also likely to count against him. Watford would demand a release fee, all of which adds up to an unlikely scenario of Zola being given the nod.
The special one left Stamford Bridge under a cloud back in 2007 after a row with Abramovich that led to the Portuguese coach being fired. Since then Mourinho has gone on to become one of the world’s most successful coaches of all time winning the domestic title in four different countries and capturing the Champions League trophy on two separate occasions. Now at Real Madrid, rumours persist that his time is coming to an end after a series of public disagreements by players and the worst start to a season for Real in nearly ten years. Clubs across Europe are watching with interest, including Chelsea and with Mourinho favouring a move back to the Premiership in the near future, Chelsea may believe that they can convince their former coach to return. However Mourinho is likely to resist and favours a move to either Manchester United or Manchester City before Chelsea. Added in to this, PSG’s ability to fund his ambitions and give him the opportunity to win another title in a different league, they may trump all the british clubs vying for his services.
Other candidates such as Everton’s David Moyes, QPR’s Harry Redknapp, Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Russia’s Fabio Capello will all be considered as well for the Chelsea job. But Abramovich will know that he will need to act fast if he is to secure his next manager. If he takes the decision to relieve Benetiz of the role in the summer, the ground work must be laid now in an effort to prepare for the next Chelsea boss’s arrival. Having lost out on Guardiola, after giving the Spaniard space and time to think, Abramovich is unlikely to be as understanding with his next target and is likely to attack them strongly and demand an answer within a given time scale. The billion dollar question is which coach is brave enough to work for the Russian, given that he has dispensed with nine managers in ten years before their arrival. One thing is certain, that come July 1st it won’t be Pep Guardiola who is walking through the doors at Chelsea, much to Roman Abramovich’s dismay.