It has been one of the most stunning demises in the history of English football. Just seven months on from lifting the Premier League title, Jose Mourinho has been sacked by Chelsea after a start to the season that has seen them lose nine of their first 16 games and sit just a single point above the relegation zone. The final straw proved to be a 2-1 defeat by Leicester City on Monday and an explosive post-match interview in which he hung his players out to dry.
On Thursday, owner Roman Abramovich decided there was no way back and dispensed with his services for a second time. The sudden turn of events mean that Chelsea look set to appoint an interim coach until the end of the season, with Guus Hiddink, who filled the same role for Chelsea in 2009, and former Tottenham and Real Madrid manager Juande Ramos the leading contenders. But movements will already be underway to secure a long-term replacement for Mourinho, capable of leading Chelsea back to the top in England and Europe.
Here are the four leading candidates:
Abramovich has mounted a prolonged courtship of Guardiola as he longed for the Spaniard’s hallmark spellbinding attacking play to be replicated at Stamford Bridge. It is even possible to trace the Chelsea owner’s pursuit of Guardiola to Mourinho’s demise. The squad that Mourinho took over for his second spell in charge was one put together in an attempt to woo Guardiola and provide the type of skillful players he relishes, rather than the more physical figures in-keeping with Mourinho’s approach.
It is inconceivable to think that Chelsea will not make yet another attempt to lure Guardiola now, especially given that is expected to be announced next week that he will be leaving Bayern Munich at the end of the season. But Guardiola has continually rejected Chelsea’s advances, seemingly turned off by their readiness to dispense with managers at the first sign of trouble. Chelsea’s potential approach of the two-time Champions League winner could also come too late, with strong reports that he has already been in advanced negotiations with Manchester City.
Arguably Simeone is the manager who most closely resembles Mourinho when he first arrived at Chelsea in 2004 and promptly transformed them into Premier League champions and on the path to being a consistent European power. Like Mourinho, the Atlético Madrid manager has hunger in abundance, a relish in turning over the established powers and with an ability to transmit all of that fight into the performance of his team.
Simeone’s achievements in just four years in charge of Atlético cannot fail to impress. A one-time title-winning midfielder at Atletico, Simeone led “Madrid’s other team” to the Europa League title in his first season in charge and the Copa del Rey in the second. In the third, he accomplished one of modern soccer’s greatest managerial feats by guiding them to the Spanish league title, overcoming a huge financial disparity with Barcelona and Real Madrid, and was two minutes away from winning the Champions League. The only question would be whether he could replicate the same team-ethic with a squad of larger egos, like he would encounter at Stamford Bridge. Getting him away from Atlético could also be difficult, with the Argentine having only signed a new contract the Vicente Calderon in May taking him through to 2020.
If Mourinho can go back to Chelsea after being fired then perhaps Ancelotti can tread the same path. The experienced Italian coach won the Premier League and FA Cup double in his first season in charge of Chelsea in 2010 but was promptly sacked a year later after a trophy-less campaign. That didn’t leave a particularly pleasant taste in his mouth, but he has shown a keen ability to cope with difficult working environments in the past, both at Chelsea and Real Madrid.
His list of honors will certainly appeal to Abramovich. While Ancelotti has not enjoyed the success he arguably should have done in domestic league campaigns, no manager has won more than his three European Cups -- a prize that Abramovich craves more than any other. He is also out of work following his dismissal from Real Madrid, and has said that he wants to take a job in the summer following a year’s break. However, once again Chelsea may be too late. Spanish publication Marca reported on Wednesday that Ancelotti has already agreed to a three-year contract to replace Guardiola at Bayern in the summer.
Currently in charge of the Italian national team, Conte could well be tempted by a return to club management with a team of Chelsea’s pedigree following Euro 2016. The 46-year-old has not always appeared in love with the national job, and his contract will expire in the summer. His record at club level is certainly an impressive one. Taking charge of Juventus in 2011, he led the team he represented as a player to their first Serie A title since the Calciopoli scandal, and promptly guided them to another two before his sudden departure shortly before the start of last season. Counting against him, though, will be the fact that he struggled to replicate his domestic success with Juventus in the Champions League. After being knocked out in the group stage in his final season in charge, replacement Massimiliano Allegri then promptly led the Turin giants to the final.