Antonio Conte on the Brink: Will Luis Enrique Become Chelsea's Next Manager?

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportFebruary 6, 2018

Antonio Conte on the Brink: Will Luis Enrique Become Chelsea's Next Manager?

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    We were never convinced Antonio Conte would last the full season at Chelsea, but as he comes to terms with a shattering 4-1 defeat at Watford on Monday night, the Blues manager is being spoken of as a dead man walking.

    After the latest setback in the bid to retain the Premier League title, Conte insisted he is not worried, even though he previously called on the Chelsea board to release a statement backing him.

    Clearly there is uncertainty, but the board had been hoping to let him see out the season before deciding on which direction to take.

    That was the unofficial word being put out by club sources ahead of the Watford loss. Now we wait to see whether they are strong enough to stand by their man.

    The former Juventus boss won the league last season, but this is a club with 10 coaches in the past 15 years, so it would be no major shock to see them change again.

    Conte seems destined to lose his job, so I have been looking into which option seems most likely as a replacement if the axe falls.

Luis Enrique

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    The former Barcelona manager is considered favourite to become Chelsea's next full-time boss as Conte's job hangs in the balance.

    It comes with good reason: He is believed to have the support of key figures within the Chelsea hierarchy. Sources close to the club are convinced he was always going to be the first person they would turn to with a long-term offer when the time came for a new manager.

    The fact he is available, after leaving the Camp Nou when his contract expired in June, is a huge advantage. His success at Barca (two La Liga titles and the Champions League) is proof he is up to the job.

    Does he fancy it, though? Enrique has been taking time out of the game but is fielding offers as he contemplates a return. 

    And it is understood he has some reservations about taking over now, given Chelsea face a tough Champions League draw with Barcelona and are struggling to stay in the top four in the Premier League.

    Imagine a first season in which he fails to qualify for the Champions League and doesn't win a trophy. There would be immediate fears his neck would soon be on the line. 

    Chelsea do want him and are in pursuit, but sources have suggested Enrique needs convincing on the timing, as he would rather wait until the summer and plan for a new season.

Guus Hiddink

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    Only a fool would rule out the potential return of Guus Hiddink, particularly if Chelsea are looking for a short-term fix.

    It wouldn't be glamorous, but at a time when the Blues need stability, he would be the safest choice again.

    His first spell as Chelsea boss was temporary in 2009. He was so popular back then that key first-team players begged him to stay.

    Then he jumped into the hot seat Jose Mourinho vacated in December 2015 for a second stint as Chelsea boss. That time around he left without quite the same sheen.

    Nevertheless, if club owner Roman Abramovich decides to cut ties with Conte before the mess deepens, it would be no surprise to see Hiddink back in the dugout.

Leonid Slutsky

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    Incredibly, it was Leonid Slutsky who originally sat at the top of Abramovich's wanted list.

    That was before his horrible time in charge of Hull City, though, when he won just four of 21 matches in charge before losing his job in December.

    It was a hammer blow to Abramovich, as his dream of having a Russian in charge of his club was pretty much ended once and for all.

    The pair have a close relationship, and the Chelsea owner helped Slutsky land the Hull job in the first place.

    He may still lean on Slutsky for advice at difficult times such as this, but giving him the job would seem a gamble too far. Chelsea need a bigger name—or someone with a tie to the club.

Carlo Ancelotti

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    No Chelsea manager search would be complete without at least considering Carlo Ancelotti. But as one contact indicated to me, there was concern around the club last time around over his lack of a Plan B.

    Ancelotti managed the Blues between 2009-2011, winning the Premier League and FA Cup in 2010, but he is now without a job again after leaving Bayern Munich earlier in the campaign.

    He has been mooted as the next Italy boss, but sources in his homeland told me they think he would prefer a return to the Premier League.

    They believe he would only do so for a "big club, and the right club." So never say never. 

Maurizio Sarri

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    After Chelsea's defeat at Watford, I asked Chelsea fans on Twitter who they would like to take charge if Conte left.

    Many seemed in favour of Napoli manager Maurizio Sarri, but you have to wonder why he would leave Serie A right now.

    He has enjoyed a great campaign, with his side in title contention and playing some of the best football in Europe. 

    With the rumours cropping up last week, Sarri distanced himself from the job, saying he was more focused on a new contract at Napoli. 

Brendan Rodgers

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    A choice from left field? How about Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, who learned his trade within the Chelsea youth system?

    There are not many jobs he would consider in England at the moment, but a return to west London would prove tempting.

    Certainly he could utilise the current squad and would be more than willing to help the club's homegrown talent emerge on a bigger stage.

    For too long Chelsea have been producing players in their academy but not giving them a chance. Rodgers, having worked in that environment, has a better knowledge and understanding of who would be capable of making the step up.

    At this stage there has been no contact, but if Chelsea are looking for an attractive style of football and a link to the club, Rodgers could be a good catch.

Massimiliano Allegri

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    In Italy there has been a belief that Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri was the top target for Chelsea.

    That was reported by Corriere dello Sport (h/t The Sun), although they went on to add there was no way his current side would be letting him leave.

    Allegri replaced Conte as Juve boss four years ago, but this time that scenario seems less likely.

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