Speculation is rife as to the identity of Chelsea’s next boss, candidates ranging from Diego Simeone to Antonio Conte all linked to the full-time role as manager at Stamford Bridge.
Whoever takes charge has a tough task on their hands, rebuilding and reshaping a squad in the aftermath of a puzzlingly bad title-defence. Guus Hiddink has done a fantastic job of steadying the ship in the wake of Jose Mourinho’s departture, the club still in with a chance of rescuing some positivity, even silverware, from the season.
And in looking to next season, the club could do a lot worse than turn to another Dutchman to help guide the players in the right direction, namely Ronald Koeman. The former Ajax and Barcelona player has impressed in his short time at Southampton, guiding the club to it’s best ever top-flight finish of seventh and on course to do even better this season.
Having also had successful spells at the three Dutch giants – Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord, plus time in charge of Benfica and Valencia, he has good experience at ‘big clubs’ to match Chelsea’s ambitions. Clearly well suited to the demands of managing in the Premier League, a relatively young, progressive manager like Koeman could work well with Chelsea’s refocused direction.
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Many will point to a lack of real success in Europe and Champions League football as marks against Koeman’s management credentials for a club like Chelsea, and whilst this is certainly a factor, the club are unlikely to be in Europe’s top competition next season, leaving Koeman and the players to fully concentrate on domestic matters. Given even better players to work with than those currently at Southampton, there is more than enough evidence to suggest he could guide Chelsea back into the top four.
Continuity and experience are both important when it comes to football, and Koeman would bring both elements should he be appointed to sit in the Stamford Bridge dug-out next season. A key part of Hiddink’s European Cup winning PSV side in the late 80’s, he also worked alongside the Chelsea interim boss for the Dutch national side at France ’98. Keeping Hiddink on in some capacity and bringing in Koeman would be an ideal scenario.
Similar outlooks in both personality and playing style would ease the transition between managers, the free-flowing nature of Dutch football evident in both managers tactics and philosophy. While many other of the candidates have both different playing styles and no experience of the Premier League, Koeman offers something different, a manager with less celebrated achievements yes, but one who will not have to adapt to life in the fast-paced English Premier League – just ask Jurgen Klopp or LVG how easy it is to adapt to the English game.
Defensively astute – his Southampton side are currently on a six game streak of clean-sheets, the double European Cup winner brings much of what marked him out as a great player to his role as manager. Mixing defensive capability and a strong and uncompromising playing style, he also had a attacking instinct and an eye for goal. Blending the two aspects of the game saw him become the highest scoring defender in world football as a player and a defensive mind-set with an attacking lean would mould well with a Chelsea back-line needing to re-establish itself as a force to be reckoned with.
A glittering playing career gives him the respect of the players, his easy going yet firm personality earning him even more. Dealing with difficult players and situations is not a problem for him – his swift handling of want-away stars Sadio Mane and Victor Wanyama in January, both personally and via the media, showed a manager able to stick to his principles and display good man-management.
This would go down well in a Stamford Bridge dressing-room that has been liable to factions and splits in the past and would stand the club in good stead going forward.
There are certainly plenty of reasons to see Koeman as an ideal candidate to take the reigns at Chelsea next season, but ultimately he will probably miss out due to lack of big European of International experience. That of course is no guarantee for success at Chelsea – Andre Villas Boas a case in point – but it is likely a strong factor in the thinking of the main decision-makers at the west London club.
Koeman is at a great age and has the pedigree to continue on his path to becoming as good a manager as he was a player. Whether Chelsea would take the risk on him at this stage seems unlikely and the post may have come a little too early for him, but Abramovich and Co’ could do a lot worse than appoint one of the brightest managerial minds in the Premier League.