After such a promising couple of seasons following his return to London, it seemed as though both Chelsea FC and Jos Mourinho were fully committed to a long-term relationship this time around. However, an inexplicably disastrous start to the third season — coupled with stories about player discontent and several off-field issues — has left the Portuguese’s future hanging in the balance.
As Jos Mourinho addressed his staff on the Stamford Bridge turf following his side’s latest defeat in the league — this time to Liverpool FC — the online football world went into overdrive with discussions about where and when the Portuguese would be sacked.
The game against Liverpool FC was built up as the game that would determine the fate of the Chelsea FC manager. Nearly 72 hours since that damaging defeat, there has been only silence from the club — an ominous silence that very much feels as though it is the calm before the storm.
Most reliable media outlets (Sky Sports, ESPN FC, Guardian) are in agreement that the Portuguese has been granted a stay of execution until the international break, but respected freelance journalist and Chelsea FC fan Dan Levene has suggested that the club are merely waiting for an opportune moment to announce a decision that he believes has already been made.
One of the biggest obstacles Roman Abramovich and his board are likely to face however, is that of finding a suitable successor if they were to sack Mourinho before the half-way point in the season. Here are three managers the Blues are likely to consider appointing either now or in the summer of 2016:
1. Carlo Ancelotti
Positives: One of the Italian’s greatest strengths is his ability to bring the players together without necessarily waging a war against the outside world, or forces within it that are perceived to be working against the club. It is what he was able to do in the notoriously political, high-pressure, toxic environment of Real Madrid, winning a trophy the club had coveted for over a decade — La Decima.
Perhaps the greatest endorsement of his work at Real came from superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, who posed with Ancelotti for a photo at the end of last season with the caption: “Great coach and amazing person. Hope we work together next season.”
Apart from his general conviviality, the attacking style of football he is known for is another major positive. There is no doubt that certain members within the current Blues squad would enjoy the increased freedom they would likely be afforded under Ancelotti. The former AC Milan manager’s Chelsea FC side still holds the record for most number of goals scored in the Premier League, with the likes of Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard contributing significantly to the 103 goals netted in the 2009-2010 campaign.
Lastly, the Italian has shown his ability to promote and develop players from the academy. The Blues currently have arguably their most talented batch of academy players ever, and Ancelotti would be the ideal manager to tap into that talent — as he did with the then 17-year-old Josh McEachran during his first spell at Stamford Bridge.
Negatives: Despite boasting of a sparkling CV that leaves little to be desired, the most obvious shortcoming is the number of league titles won. In over a decade of management at the elite level, Ancelotti has just three league titles to his name; one of them came with the mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, justifiably reducing its significance relative to the Scudetto or the Premier League.
His failure to win the league at Real Madrid was what ultimately cost him the job. With the increasing commercial power of Manchester United, and by extension, their ability to spend, as well as the competition provided by the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal FC and very possibly Liverpool FC, Roman Abramovich might have to think twice about whether he trusts Ancelotti to bring him sustained success in the league.
Likelihood: 7/10. The Italian is currently without a club, and although his unceremonious dismissal by Chelsea FC the first time around will be on his mind, Ancelotti does not seem like the type to hold grudges. There have been stories in the media of late indicating the manager’s openness to returning to Stamford Bridge, and if Mourinho is sacked, Abramovich could well turn to yet another former manager.
2. Pep Guardiola
Positives: The biggest positive of hiring Pep Guardiola would be the change in the style of football Chelsea FC play. Although possession-based football can be just as soporific as ‘defensive’ football at times, the Spaniard coached one of the greatest club teams of all time in FC Barcelona, whose football in the period between 2009 to 2011 was absolutely mesmeric.
At its zenith, the manifestation of Guardiola’s philosophy on the pitch is a thing of beauty — methodical, structured attacking that somehow still has the element of unpredictability that keeps defences guessing. This technical brand of football would again be more suited to certain members of the Blues’ squad, with the likes of Eden Hazard and Cesc F bregas most likely to benefit.
Perhaps because of this philosophy in some ways, it it easier for the Spaniard to integrate academy players into the first team squad. Given some of the burgeoning talent on Chelsea FC’s books, this would be a huge positive of hiring the Bayern Munich manager.
Negatives: Whether or not Guardiola will be able to stamp his style of football on the current Chelsea FC squad is worth questioning. It does not boast of technical ability anywhere close to that of FC Barcelona or Bayern Munich, and the English Premier League can be particularly unforgiving to a team that tries to play a radically different style with players not quite suited to it — something Andr Villas-Boas learned the hard way in 2012.
The idea of Guardiola as a long-term manager is also one that is difficult to reconcile with what we have seen from his short managerial career thus far. The Spaniard admitted to being tired physically and mentally after his time with Barcelona, and it also seems unlikely that he will stay much longer at Bayern Munich. Guardiola is still very much in the ‘first half’ of his career, and could well want to test himself in different leagues, as was Mourinho’s ambition until recently.
Likelihood: 4/10. Potentially hiring Pep Guardiola necessarily means that Chelsea FC must first appoint an interim manager until the end of the season — an interim manager who will face the uphill task of taking the Blues to a top four finish. It is difficult to see Guardiola joining a club not competing in the Champions League next season, as is likely to be the case with the Stamford Bridge outfit. Also, of course, with the season going so well for him at Bayern Munich, the 44-year-old might simply sign a contract extension and continue with the Bavarian giants for a further season or two.
3. Diego Simeone
Positives: Diego Simeone is comfortably the closest in management style to Mourinho, out of the three managers. The Argentine’s Atl tico Madrid side has developed into a robust, well-drilled unit that is impeccably organised in a defensive sense. In that sense, Simeone taking over at Chelsea FC would require the least adaptation from the squad in terms of adjusting to a new style of play.
Like the Portuguese, Simeone has also shown the ability to achieve against incredible odds; the former Argentina international pulled off one of the most incredible achievements in club management by guiding Atl tico to the Spanish league title as well as the UEFA Champions League final in 2013-2014. Finally, Simeone is a manager who wears his heart on his sleeve; whose passion for the club and bond with the fans is clear to see in every single game.
He will prove to be a unifying presence at Chelsea FC, as Mourinho was when he first joined the club in 2004.
Negatives: One of the biggest question-marks has to be regarding Simeone’s relative lack of experience managing a club with a global reputation and expectations that are consistent with that image. The style of football his teams play has also drawn criticism from some quarters due to its defensive — and at times violent — nature.
Perhaps most saliently, it is difficult to see him having the same attachment to Chelsea FC as he does to the Madrid side, where he was once a player. A big part of the reason why Simeone has such a happy marriage with Atl ti is the bond he has with the club and its supporters. Operating in an environment where he does not quite have that will be a daunting challenge for the Argentine.
Likelihood: 3/10. If for no other reason than that the Argentine has signed a deal keeping him at the club till 2020, this one seems particularly unlikely. Atl tico Madrid are currently a better team than Chelsea FC, and have a young squad that could realistically threaten the established giants in La Liga over the coming years. Atl ti will thus be very resistant to the idea of departing with their manager, and Simeone himself is unlikely to be too tempted by any offers from Abramovich.
The path ahead for Abramovich and the Chelsea FC board is thus fraught with danger. Sacking Mourinho now gives them little time to evaluate their options, and forces them to make a decision one way or another regarding Ancelotti, who is likely to have many takers in the summer after the season is over.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks, the club can ill afford any more miscalculations given their ambitions to expand the stadium and integrate academy graduates into the first team squad. That can only come with managerial stability, and if Mourinho is sacked, the club will once again be faced with the prospect of finding someone for the long term.
The next couple of weeks are arguably the most crucial in terms of Chelsea FC determining the path they want to follow for the future of the club.