Putting aside the arguments about whether or not Conte will relinquish, or be relinquished of, his role comes the summer, it is prudent to look at who could replace the Italian. The usual names will be thrown around, along with some more left-field and even some decidedly bizarre ones. In this article, we look at who realistically could take over, as well as some managers who probably won’t, but maybe should.
Two names that immediately come to mind are Ancelotti and Gus Hiddink. In the past, Abramovich has proved that he has no issue with hiring former managers, and both of these candidates are currently free agents. There is also no doubt that they would be able to do the job. However, with Manchester City seemingly having raised the bar, Chelsea really need someone who is capable of more than merely doing a job.
If you are looking at former managers, Ranieri has racked up some comprehensive experience since leaving The Bridge in 2004, including (of course) the English title. That success has been tempered slightly by revelations that have come about both at the time and since, and after a strong start at Nantes, performances and results have tailed off recently.
Another free agent who surely won’t be for too much longer is Luis Enrique. A favourite with the bookies, the Spaniard fits in with the theory that Chelsea would try to replicate what Guardiola has done in Manchester. Whether that theory holds water is another thing, as is the small matter of more than £300 million.
Diego Simeone is many people’s number one choice; but with a temperament that makes Conte look like Ken Barlow and the fact he has recently signed a new two-year contract at Atletico, in my opinion, it is unlikely. On the other hand, Zidane will be an easier, cheaper option, as he is very likely to leave the Bernabéu this summer. He also ticks most of the boxes Enrique and Simeone do, with perhaps fewer of the potential negatives.
It is, of course, World Cup year. These times are notoriously bad for buying players. If a player has two decent games on the biggest stage on the planet, his value goes through the roof. As fans, managers and chairmen have experienced on countless occasions over the years (at great financial cost), replicating that form on a weekly basis is a whole different matter. However, it is a slightly different matter regarding managers, with contracts coming to an end and some of the world’s top coaches looking to get back to day-to-day contact with their players.
Two potentials jump out. Joachim Löw will be looking to secure his second World Cup in Russia. If that is a fitting end to his twelve-year stint as German boss, a move to the EPL does look to be a strong possibility. There have been rumours linking him to The Emirates, but it wouldn’t be the first time Chelsea have been deemed to be a more attractive proposition than someone in North London. The other name is perhaps out of left field, but after a bit of digging, it becomes less so. Spanish coach Julen Lopetegui might have limited experience at the club level, to say the least, but he has been very impressive for his national side since taking over. They are currently unbeaten under his reign, and he hasn’t been afraid to make tough decisions involving celebrity players. This comprehensive World Cup Group B preview goes into more detail regarding their chances, which also involves (of course) the Chelsea triumvirate.
People craving someone with Premier League experience can look at Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche, Brendan Rogers and Rafa, but none of them appear likely. Whomever they go for, they have to decide whether we stick to the current method of changing every two or three years, which (although it has its critics) does deliver results. The alternative is to try and build something sustainable for the future. For that to happen, it will require a certain type of manager, as well as a certain amount of patience. The first of those may be easier to find than the latter.