Since taking the managerial reigns from Jose Mourinho in December, Guus Hiddink has provided the ship-steadying influence Chelsea desperately needed.
The Blues may still be languishing in the bottom half of the Premier League table, in 13th place to be precise, but they’re yet to lose a game under the Dutchman and last weekend secured a vital 1-0 win over title challengers Arsenal.
But hired on an interim basis and already 69 years of age, Uncle Guus – as he’s known affectionately in Australia – isn’t really a long-term option for the west London club.
So the question on the lips of every Chelsea fan at the moment is quite simply; who will be placed in the Stamford Bridge hot seat once Hiddink’s tenure comes to an end?
We’re still a good five or six months away from finding out, but talks behind closed doors are undoubtedly going on already. With that in mind, Football FanCast are running the rule over the SIX leading candidates…
It took the press just a matter of hours to link Jorge Sampaoli with Chelsea job after stepping down as Chile manager earlier this month and whether it’s with the Blues or someone else, the Argentine looks set to make the move into European management this summer.
The 55-year-old guided Chile to the first knockout round of the 2014 World Cup, escaping a group that contained the Netherlands, Spain and Australia, and the first Copa America title in the country’s history last year.
He worked with a large cross section of ability – ranging from Arsenal talisman Alexis Sanchez to Malmo defender Miiko Albonorz – and installed a captivating, high-octane yet technical style of play that attracted neutrals to the Chile cause.
Admittedly, however, his credentials at club level are considerably less spectacular, never spending more than two years at a club during his 15 tenures in South America – albeit often managing teams on more than one occasion. His experience in European football is currently zero.
Mark Hughes has been mooted as a rank outsider for the Chelsea job over the last few days and although he’s perhaps not the most fashionable choice when compared to some of the other names on this list, it’s impossible to ignore his sensational transformation of Stoke City.
Indeed, he’s turned a team that seemed capable of only playing one kind of way under Tony Pulis into one of the most versatile and entertaining sides in the Premier League, playing a similar style of football that earned him plaudits at Blackburn at Fulham whilst maintaining the Potters’ heritage of no-nonsense defending and physicality.
The Welshman’s signed some notoriously difficult characters and mercurial talents, namely Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic, and hasn’t taken long to get the best out of them, getting all three to buy into a club that probably isn’t too well known outside of the Premier League.
Furthermore, Sparky will have the majority of the Chelsea fanbase on his side from the start, having lifted an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Cup Winners’ Cup during his three seasons at Stamford Bridge as a player.
Antonio Conte guided Juventus to three consecutive titles and claimed three Serie A manager of the year awards during his three full seasons in charge of the Turin outfit, leaving a relatively simple job and a formidable team behind for successor Massimo Allegri.
Indeed, the likes of Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal quickly flourished under his leadership and what is perhaps most appealing about Conte is the tactical progression during his time at Juve. His sides always pressed high and worked hard, but they changed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, a 3-5-2 and somewhere in between a midfield diamond, whilst still finding the same level of results.
The Italian is now in charge of his national team and preparing for next summer’s European Championships. But still just 46 years of age, it seems inevitable he’ll go back to club football after the tournament in France.
Whether it’s with Chelsea or someone else could well depend on how far Azzurri progress in the competition.
Since arriving in the Premier League with Southampton in January 2013, Mauricio Pochettino’s reputation has steadily grown.
He transformed Southampton from relegation battlers into top six contenders in the space of just 18 months and has had a similar effect at Tottenham Hotspur – rebuilding an underachieving and expensively assembled team from the ground up to forge a young, ambitious and industrious squad that are now on the fringes of the Premier League title race.
In addition to his success, there are two main reasons the Argentine is now being linked with so many of Europe’s top jobs. First of all, the style of play sits well with the average fan, combining relentless hard work and energy with a willingness to always drive forward and technical flair.
Secondly, he’s an expert at getting the best out of players aged under 25. Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Calum Chambers all left the Saints for huge sums after shining under Pochettino, whilst Spurs now have a plethora of gems of their own in Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen.
Chelsea, more than most clubs in world football, need a manager willing to trust younger players.
Of all the names on this list, Diego Simeone is by far the most suitable candidate to succeed Jose Mourinho.
He shares many traits with the Special One, particularly a pragmatic philosophy and a cult of personality style of leadership, and has used them to reinstate Atletico Madrid as one of La Liga’s and indeed Europe’s leading clubs.
The Argentine’s success speaks for itself. Since taking over the Vincente Calderon outfit in December 2011, when they were languishing in mid-table and on the brink of financial meltdown, he’s lifted a Europa League title, a Copa del Rey, the first non-El-Clasico La Liga title for over a decade and reached a Champions League final, despite having to part with at least one key player – Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa, for example – every summer.
Whether the 45-year-old can transition his style of management to a Barcelona or Bayern Munich remains open to debate. But Chelsea could well be the perfect fit; they’ve always had a besieged mentality since being transformed by Roman Abramovich’s billions and that’s the kind of environment Simeone appears to thrive in.
Perhaps the real question, however, is whether he’s prepared to leave his beloved Atletico – especially with their twelve-month transfer ban just around the corner.
Manchester City are seen as the front-runners in the race to sign Bayern Munich’s Pep Guardiola with Manchester United not too far behind, but there’s no reason we should be ruling Chelsea out just yet.
After all, Roman Abramovich has spent much of his Blues tenure trying to find a manager who can provide a brand-building style of football similar to Barcelona’s and the former Nou Camp gaffer would obviously be ideal in that regard.
Furthermore, the Chelsea owner likes trophies and that’s what the Spaniard provides, boasting an incredible nineteen from his spells with Barcelona and Bayern Munich – including two Champions League titles with a Catalans side that were probably the greatest club team the beautiful game has ever witnessed.
Of course, the biggest issue is that Chelsea’s current squad would probably require the biggest transformation when compared to United and City, having been forged out of Mourinho’s completely opposite philosophy.
Nonetheless, it’s no secret the west Londoners have money to spend and a huge cohort of youngsters Guardiola will almost certainly be able to pick a few gems from.