Following Roberto Di Matteo’s dismissal, a whole host of names have been advocated as his successor. In this article, Ed Dove considers five chief candidates and their suitability for the role.
Whoever takes the hot seat will have to contend not only with the demands of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, but also the club's crumbling Champions League defence and their unconvincing Premier League form.
Which of these men would have the fortitude to prosper under such circumstances?
Clarke and Di Matteo: In disaster lies opportunity
What is it about Roman Abramovich and West Bromwich Albion? The Russian appears to be unable to tolerate a defeat to the Throstles from the Black Country. AVB was dismissed following defeat by West Brom, whilst Sunday’s defeat to the same team clearly preempted his dissatisfaction with the Di Matteo regime.
What better way to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself than to pluck the very mastermind for this latest defeat from the Albion, and who more perfect to fill the Chelsea hot seat than a man who knows the club as well as anyone?
After over a decade as a player in West London and with another handful of years as part of the staff more recently, Steve Clarke is approaching legend status at Stamford Bridge. With his knowledge of the club and his players, the goodwill generated by the fans and his undoubted loyalty, Abramovich could do worse than to turn to the Scot.
Still, despite the Albion’s excellent start to the EPL campaign, Clarke is only five months into his first managerial job—this inexperience would surely count against him in the face of other candidates.
Pep: Hesitant to sign up
The ex-Barcelona supremo will surely be the people’s pick to take the hot seat at Stamford Bridge. The Spaniard is one of the most highly esteemed bosses in world football at the moment, having guided Barca to an unprecedented, superlative period in their history, playing a brand of football revered universally for its aesthetic qualities.
Pep’s credentials, as well as the fact that he is available after leaving his post in the summer, must make him a seductive prospect for Abramovich.
You can almost imagine, as you read this, the Russian himself, flanked by Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay, standing outside Guardiola’s villa, hurling money at the door in an attempt to lure him to West London.
And that’s where the problem lies: The impression is that Guardiola just doesn’t want to go. Not only is he intent on recuperating and enjoying his liberty, he is also, wisely, hesitant to sign up to the whims and fancies of a Russian oligarch—can you blame him?
And what of the Mourinho factor? Would a Guardiola appearance at Chelsea not feel like slipping into bed with your worst enemy’s ex-wife? Not recommended.
Mourinho and Chelsea: Unloved, but perfect for each other
And what of Mourinho?
The fabled former boss, the man who ended the wait of half a century for a league title, an icon at the club, the Special One.
Jose has bored us with his oft-quoted declarations of love for both the English game and for Chelsea specifically, and what better time to make true on his word than now? Does a return to London beckon for a managerial superstar who has found affection hard to come by in Spain?
The answer is probably no.
Enticing as it may be, as delicious a prospect as a Mourinho return would be—certainly for the headline writers—there is still a sense of unfinished business in his work at Real Madrid.
The club are still waiting for that luminous 10th Champions League, and Mourinho seems to have made it his personal quest to obtain it. Not one to leave a job half done, it’s hard to see Jose jumping ship without that 10th European Cup in the cabinet.
Still, the man has surprised us before, and Mourinho and Chelsea, both unloved to the point of resentment, arrogant to the point of ignorance, have always felt like a perfect fit.
It’s easy to see Redknapp’s appeal. The affable Londoner—excuse the cliché—knows the Premier League inside out, knows the capital—and its footballing nuances—like the back of his hand, and he appears to have the respect of the country’s top footballers, as was evidenced when he was almost universally regarded as the next England manager following Fabio Capello’s dismissal. Remember that?
The attractive, attacking football Redknapp espoused at Tottenham would also go down well on the King’s Road, where Abramovich has been keen to encourage and introduce a more appealing style, scorned perhaps by the sniffy criticism Chelsea received after their pragmatic, if resilient, Champions League victory.
Were Harry to take over his third London club, it would provide a symmetry of sorts, his successor at Spurs being former Chelsea boss André Villas-Boas.
Whilst I am personally unconvinced of his suitability for the role, Rafael Benitez has emerged as the favourite to settle into the hot seat at Stamford Bridge.
Ostensibly, however, I can see the appeal for Roman Abramovich: Benitez has extensive Premier League experience, he has European pedigree—having won the Champions League with Liverpool and the UEFA Cup with Valencia—and he has the sort of cosmopolitan persona that has historically appealed to the Russian boss.
However, the flaws in Benitez’s CV are hard to ignore, and may count against him in such an environment as Chelsea.
For all of the glory of "That night in Istanbul," the truth about the Spaniard’s reign at Liverpool are considerably more inglorious. Despite having a squad containing the likes of Steve Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso—not to mention Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina in the prime of their careers—Benitez failed to bring the Premier League to Anfield. In fact, there was only one season where he was remotely close to the league’s summit.
Benitez’s temperament can also be questioned; his squabbles with Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson were exuberant to the point of embarrassment, whilst his transfer policy can also come under scrutiny. Whatever became of all those bright talents that he signed (for considerable fees) at Liverpool?
They tell me Antonio Nunez works in a café these days.
Still, one of Abramovich’s obsessions in recent years has been getting the best out of Fernando Torres—his £50 million Spanish bombshell. Could Benitez, who brought his compatriot to England and who got the best out of him in the EPL, be the man to ignite El Nino?