Should lifting the FA Cup on Saturday prove to be Antonio Conte’s last act as Chelsea boss, he’ll join a strangely unique club. Just one manager to serve under Roman Abramovich has lasted longer than a year at Stamford Bridge after winning England’s most coveted cup competition, yet the calibre of the personnel involved is beyond exceptional – Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Guus Hiddink are not only amongst the greatest managers in Chelsea’s modern history, but also amongst the greatest of their eras.
So in many ways, for Conte to be formally dismissed after beating Manchester United on Saturday is as much an endorsement of his potential for further success elsewhere as it is an indictment on Chelsea’s disappointing title defence, ending the Premier League campaign in fifth place.
It also highlights why although Abramovich has brought unprecedented success to Stamford Bridge, 14 major trophies and counting so far, there’s always a feeling that the club’s hire-and-fire culture has resulted in wasted opportunities, and prevented a real dynasty from growing in west London. Only once since Mourinho’s first dismissal in 2007 have Chelsea held onto any trophy for more than one season – Hiddink ending his interim spell with the 2009 FA Cup and Ancelotti pulling off a successful defence a year later.
So, what happened after each manager brought the FA Cup to Abramovich’s trophy cabinet, and what does that mean for Conte? Here’s a brief but important history…
FA Cup final: Chelsea 1-0 Man United. Failing to hold onto the Premier League title for a third consecutive term, Didier Drogba brought a positive end to the Blues’ season by scoring a 116th-minute winner over the Red Devils during the first ever cup final at the new Wembley.
How long did he last? 124 days later, Mourinho and Chelsea unexpectedly agreed to a contract termination by ‘mutual consent’. It followed a slow start to the new season by Mourinho’s standards, losing to Aston Villa and drawing with Rosenborg in the Champions League. But the backdrop was the Portuguese’s resentment towards the club’s transfer policy, something Conte can undoubtedly sympathise with.
What happened next? A year later, Mourinho was appointed by Inter Milan. His first season ended with the Serie A title and his second ended with the San Siro giants completing an illustrious treble, including the 2010 Champions League title. Three years on from that, Mourinho would find himself back at Stamford Bridge after a turbulent spell at Real Madrid.
FA Cup final: Chelsea 2-1 Everton. Stepping in for the short-lived Phil Scolari, Hiddink ended a hugely popular interim spell with silverware as Chelsea fought back to beat Everton 2-1 after Louis Saha had opened the scoring in the first minute.
How long did he last? Officially, Hiddink’s reign came to an end just one day later, although it was as much his decision as Chelsea’s not to make his temporary appointment a permanent one. The Dutchman had only been brought in to steady the ship, doing so with a 77% win rate, and wanted to return to international management.
What happened next? That actually proved to be the last great success story of Hiddink’s managerial career, one that has seen him take underdogs to the semi-finals of major international tournaments and win the European Cup with PSV. Spells with Turkey, Anzhi and the Netherlands bore little fruit and Hiddink ended up stepping in at Stamford Bridge once again in 2016, following the disastrous end to Mourinho’s second stint with the west Londoners.
FA Cup final: Chelsea 1-0 Portsmouth. Ancelotti marked his first season at Chelsea with a domestic double, setting a Premier League record for goals scored in the process. They required another Drogba goal to overcome a resilient Pompey side that exited the Premier League in bottom place.
How long did he last? Just over a year. Ancelotti brought instant success back to Chelsea – who hadn’t lifted the Premier League title for four years prior to his arrival – but paid the price the season after when he couldn’t follow it up with more silverware. The Blues were eliminated from the Champions League by Manchester United and finished as runners-up behind them in the top flight after losing to them again in May. Following a defeat to Everton on the final day of the season, the Italian was sacked.
What happened next? Ancelotti went onto establish himself as one of the greatest managers of all time, becoming only the second to lift Europe’s top title on three occasions during a short and sweet spell with Real Madrid. Either side of that, he guided PSG and Bayern Munich to domestic titles. Still one of the best in the business, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see him return to Stamford Bridge and replace Conte this summer.
FA Cup final: Chelsea 2-1 Liverpool. Di Matteo pulled off the most unexpected of doubles after replacing Andre Villas-Boas. A severely weakened Chelsea team not only beat Liverpool 2-1 but also overcame Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena to lift the Champions League in 2012. Still the club’s greatest achievement under Abramovich.
How long did he last? 201 days. There was always a feeling that Abramovich had only given Di Matteo the job permanently because he felt obliged to, and the club legend inevitably struggled to live up to his early success. The following season, the Italian oversaw Chelsea’s early elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Juventus and a Premier League defeat to key title rivals Manchester United. Rafa Benitez was controversially brought in as his interim successor and guided Chelsea to a Europa League title.
What happened next? In fairness to Abramovich, Di Matteo’s struggles since leaving Chelsea largely justify his decision to swiftly part with the former midfielder. He lasted less than a full season at Schalke, missing out on Champions League football following a run of just two wins from his last ten games, and was ousted after just twelve games at Aston Villa, winning one of them before being replaced by Steve Bruce. Di Matteo is yet to find another job since.
FA Cup final: Due to face Manchester United this Saturday, a team Chelsea have won and lost to already this season in the Premier League. Especially when combined the fact Conte’s never won a cup as a manager, varying league form probably means United enter the weekend as the favourites.
When will he be sacked? It’s all rumours and conjecture at this moment in time, but it’s unlikely Conte will survive Chelsea’s poor Premier League campaign regardless of whether the Blues win on Saturday, especially bearing in mind how public he’s been in criticising the club’s transfer policy. The timing feels right for both parties to move on, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Conte’s departure was announced immediately after the FA Cup final.
What next for Conte? There’s no question Conte will be in demand should he leave west London this summer. He won’t be returning to the Italy job and a Juventus reunion seems unlikely, but Arsenal will have a vacancy this summer – could the Italian make the bold step across the London divide? There’s also a chance of an opening at Real Madrid, which would represent the most illustrious job of Conte’s career so far.