Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has never been shy of pulling his twitchy trigger finger when it comes to the almost revolving door policy with concerns to managerial appointments at Stamford Bridge, but with it crystal clear that he wants to make former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola as his next permanent appointment, he’s certainly backed himself into a corner should the Spaniard reject his overtures – it all just begs the question, where would they go next?
The vast majority of the club’s fans and neutrals have correctly come to the conclusion that sacking Roberto Di Matteo after his first bumpy spell in charge just six months after he had led them to the Champions League and FA Cup was completely and utterly bonkers, even by the mad house that is Chelsea’s standards.
Equally as bizarre was the short-term appointment of yet another interim manager, this time former Liverpool coach Rafa Benitez. Replacing a fan favourite with someone that is largely despised because he said a few less than complimentary things about some flags a couple of years ago was a very strange move to say the least. The transition in terms of style between Benitez and Guardiola is no clearer than it was between Di Matteo and Guardiola, so why go through all the uproar? If anything, it’s weakened the club’s strength at the negotiating table in the future.
Nevertheless, the 41-year-old is the overwhelming favourite to take over the reins in the summer after he completes his year-long sabbatical in New York with his family, as he seeks to recharge his batteries. It’s been made abundantly clear that Benitez is little more than a stop-gap appointment, with him labelled ‘interim first-team coach’ on the club’s programmes of late and even if he is successful, he’s likely to be shown the door.
You have to question the logic that Abramovich has displayed recently; it simply doesn’t add up. He must have been given some sort of tacit acknowledgement that Guardiola is interested, otherwise he’s taken one almighty risk by essentially gambling with the club’s future and writing off an entire season’s worth of progress. When you sell your soul to the devil, don’t be surprised if he treats it with disdain every now and again, but what if Guardiola turns them down, as I suspect he will, in favour of a move to Manchester City?
Judging by the somewhat scattergun betting odds, aside from Guardiola, it seems as if nobody else really has much of a clue either. Former assistant manager at the club, Ray Wilkins, told BBC Radio 5live’s Sportsweek programme something similar, albeit a little further down the line last week: “He is running out of options. If Guardiola was to come in and got sacked, where do you go? Jose [Mourinho] may not come back. Gus Poyet would be a good choice, he is cutting his teeth at Brighton and was a legend at Stamford Bridge. It is an interesting one, the options are now being closed down rather rapidly.”
Just playing devil’s advocate, to carry on with my strained hell-ish analogy from before, just what are the alternatives? There’s Michael Laudrup at Swansea, Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid, Joachim Low the current German national team boss and perhaps Borussia Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp, but there’s little else apart from that, and I very much doubt Poyet will get the nod.
Would Klopp, for instance, really want to leave the current Bundesliga champions, a place where he is in the middle of building a lasting legacy for a job that has the average tenure of seven-and-a-half months? The job is attractive for a number of reasons – plenty of money for investment available, the opportunity to work with some fantastic players, the chance to compete both domestically and in Europe and the fact that it doesn’t seem to do all the much damage to a manager’s CV – but each and every person that’s stepped through the door since Claudio Ranieri was sacked back in 2003 has thought they could tame Abramovich’s wild tendencies, like a hopeful girlfriend dating a serial womaniser; that they’ll be the ones to change him for good, but they’ve all failed. This is his club, you’re merely keeping a seat in the dugout warm.
Laudrup is doing an excellent job at Swansea, carrying on right where Brendan Rodgers left off but adding another dimension to their attacking play – while bringing in the likes of Michu, Pablo Hernandez, Jonathan De Guzman and Ki-Seung Yueng with the money gleaned from the Joe Allen transfer – on his way to 7th in the table, but he’s failed just as many places as he’s been successful during a nomadic managerial career so far and he carries an element of risk.
Simeone has fostered a combative, never-say-die spirit in his Atletico side, turning them from inconsistent and frustrating to watch into a solid and cohesive unit and they still look as if they could crash the top two’s party in La Liga this season, but the dressing room at Chelsea might not respond to his authoritarian style.
Low on the other hand hasn’t managed at club level since a year-long stint as Austria Wien boss back in 2003-4 before becoming Germany assistant manager during a fairly average career prior to being involved with the national team. Brazil boss Luiz Felipe Scolari displayed that it’s difficult to flit between the national game and the top flight and he could be out of touch with the day-to-day tasks that the job entails.
There is no clear and immediate successor should Guardiola turn his attentions elsewhere and rather reasonably come to the conclusion that Chelsea may just be a bit too much to handle. Jose Mourinho doesn’t look like he’s going to be leaving Real Madrid any time soon and as such there’s a real lack of alternatives to those pair. The plan at the moment is fuzzy at best, but it could still get a whole lot worse come the end of the season.