Chelsea’s Next Maestro is…?

Mourinho’s shocking departure has left one of the hottest managerial seats in football unoccupied. As the quality of Chelsea’s squad is immense and Abramovich’s chequebook is thicker than the latest Harry Potter book, it should come as no surprise if managers will form a queue to apply for the job at The Bridge.

So this naturally opens the door for a ton of speculation, but realistically speaking, who could actually take the job with immediate effect? Avram Grant has been named as manager for the time being but Abramovich will most likely look for a manager with credentials (Ed: And the desire to win playing ‘stylish football’, apparently..

It has become common knowledge over the past few seasons that Mourinho’s style of play is not one that the Russian billionaire behind all of Chelsea’s recent success desires his team to play. Word has it that he wants his team to play like Manchester United or Arsenal do… but there are few managers who could actually entertain at that level and still keep the club firing on all fronts. One those few managers has proven to be the man behind Barcelona’s recent success.

Frank Rijkaard did not have the best record as he took the Barcelona hot seat in 2003, but armed with the likes of Ronaldiho, Eto’o and Deco while the back door was kept safe by the likes of Puyol he managed to turn his fortunes around. Following an average inaugural season at Camp Nou, Rijkaard and his superstars produced some of the most beautiful football over the following two seasons. And the team which was built around Ronaldinho managed to win back-to-back La Liga titles and a Champions League – just the type of success Abramovich craves.

Rijkaard’s fourth season in charge, however, was a massive disappointment: Ronaldinho was often far away from his best and with the likes of Eto’o and Messi out for lengthy periods of time, the team struggled. Last season’s failures, combined with this season’s poor start could easily have changed Rijkaard’s status at the club from ‘important’ to ‘dispensible’, and president Joan Laporta might flirt with the idea of bringing in ‘The Special One’ if their flying Dutchman does eventually depart.

Rijkaard is not the only Dutchman thought to be on Abramocivh’s shortlist. Current Russia manager Guus Hiddink has constantly been touted as a potential replacement for Mourinho since the former Chelsea manager fell out with the Russian billionare earlier this year. Again Hiddink appeals to the Chelsea board for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the style of play that he adopts while he is in control of the more talented teams is often very entertaining — entertaining enough to attract more than 25,000 fans. Secondly, but perhaps more importantly, Hiddink is a very successful manager.

Having taken South Korea to the fourth place in the 2002 World Cup was surprising enough, but more recently his Australia team were highly unfortunate to bow out in the round of 16 at 2006 World Cup after a referee mistake sent the Italians to the penalty spot with just seconds remaining in the match. His club career is equally impressive as he managed three titles in four years at PSV Eindhoven and managed to make his team a constant presence in the latter stages of the Champions League.

There might be obstacles which could prevent him from leaving his current job; however it will be nothing the big man at Stanford Bridge will not be able to solve. As far as his replacement goes, it is unlikely that the Russian FA will find someone nearly as talented as Hiddink with Mourinho – or any other of the top managers – unlikely to take up that job any time soon.

The third of many possibilities for Abramovich will be to appoint someone relatively unknown in the managerial ranks; someone like Zola. The Chelsea legend was “seen” with employees of the club recently thus setting fire to another speculation bomb. In reality, he does not have much experience as far as coaching goes. In fact he is a total novice, but that could easily tempt Abramovich.

The small wages which he might command will not be a factor in the end decision, but his small ego might. Looking from the outside it seems that Roman likes to meddle in team affairs. Signing Shevchenko is the most obvious example of his involvement, however it is unlikely that Mourinho was very tolerant when it came to imposed tactics and team selection. A minnow will not oppose this very much, which might be just the kind of attitude the Russian billionaire wants from his employee.

Of course, as far as options goes, these three would be just a few in a pile of resumes which will arrive on Abramovich’s desk once the postman starts delivering the mail this morning. But realistically speaking they might well be the three strongest candidates to one of the most pleasant jobs in English football.

As far as Mourinho goes, it is unlikely that he will take charge of another Premier League club, although Ahmed’s argument on why he might join Tottenham is convincing. It is also unlikely that he will take a position at a lesser club than Chelsea, which could well result in him being unemployed for the rest of the season. At the moment though, the strongest club which might chose to appoint Mourinho in place of their current manager is Internazionale.

The Italian champions have every reason to be unhappy with their current manager, Mancini. Although he led them to the title last season, their first in 18 years, he could not do it without the help of a match-fixing scandal. Over his previous seasons in charge of the blue side of San Siro, he disappointed with his results… Mourinho would fit the bill for a club like Internazionale and the Portuguese maestro might be tempted by the Italian league, which is more focused on the tactical aspects of the game and, like him, puts results over performances. And then there is also the possibility of Barcelona coming in with a juicy offer for ‘The Special One’.

When Mourinho first came to Chelsea three years and a bit ago, he said: “don’t call me arrogant because I speak the truth … I am a special one.” He kept his style since and has been constant entertainment for fans and journalists alike off the pitch. And if he does not continue his career in England, his unique style, his criticisms and complaints as well as egg analogies et al. will be sorely missed, even by his strongest critics…

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