What’s eating Chelsea? It’s the question Roman Abramovich and his cohorts must ask themselves most days as the club drift from title contenders and Champions League regulars, to also-rans and Europa League fodder.
Antonio Conte will almost certainly depart come the end of the season, leaving them rudderless and without direction. Again.
The west London outfit’s rapid hire and fire policy has been successful for over a decade but with their old core of players gone, former sporting director Michael Emanalo now at Monaco and director Marina Granovskaia buying a series of busted flushes, this next managerial appointment may be the most important at Stamford Bridge since Abramovich bought the club back in 2003.
Here’s a rundown of the three candidates we’ve heard could be in the running.
The Sensible pick: Massimiliano Allegri
If Chelsea are looking for a steady, pragmatic hand, someone who can come in and bring success straight away, they could do worse than book the next flight to Turin.
Allegri, like most coaches in Italy, has worked his way through the lower divisions before taking his chance at AC Milan in 2010. He immediately proved his class, winning the Scudetto that season with a squad comprising the likes of Sulley Muntari and Ignzaio Abate.
In what is surely a good omen for Blues fans, he then succeeded Conte at Juventus, and did what many thought impossible – made them better. Three league titles on the bounce and two Champions League finals in three years has meant the 51-year-old is now one of the most sought-after tacticians in Europe.
More good news for supporters in west London? Allegri is a fully paid-up Anglophile and has always admitted he would love to manage in the Premier League. He’s reportedly learning English and before taking the Juve job in 2014 was even linked with a switch to Leeds United.
Clearly, that never materialised, but dreams of taking charge in the top division in England are still harboured.
With a contract at the Bianconeri until 2020 and no top-level European football at Stamford Bridge, seeing him applauding The Shed next season looks like a long shot.
The Dream pick: Leonardo Jardim
There’s Benfica, there’s Barcelona and then there’s Chelsea. The Blues have one of the best academies in Europe but that academy has essentially become something of a player farm rather than a pool from which the first team manager can pick.
As they enter a new austerity age however, will the pipeline from teenage prospect to next John Terry become easier?
If the club want to make that pathway more straight forward, Leonardo Jardim is the man to employ.
There may be no better managerial job over the past few seasons than the one Jardim has done at Monaco. Not only did he guide a team whose average age was just 25 to Ligue 1 glory, but also took them to them, amazingly, to the Champions League semi-final.
Impressive, yes. But what’s perhaps been even more noteworthy is the way he’s managed a complete squad overhaul this term, including having your best player sold to your nearest rivals, and still led them to second in Ligue 1.
For the Venezuelan-born coach to succeed though, he’ll need something Chelsea have failed to give any of their managers since Russian millions poured in: time.
His all-energy, high-pressing style needs hours on the training ground, a lack of egos and, in all likelihood, a younger squad to be truly successful.
Chelsea have youngsters in abundance but patience and a lack of arrogance amongst their stars? Let’s see.
The left-field pick: Maurizio Sarri
The last time Napoli won the Scudetto, fans scrawled graffiti on cemetery walls in the city proclaiming: “you don’t know what you’re missing”. Maurizio Sarri has come closer than anyone to bringing those scenes back to the Piazza del Plebiscito.
It looks like it will be a case of what if for the Partenopei this season but their swashbuckling brand has earned praise from, of all people, Pep Guardiola.
“Napoli play the best football in Europe,” he admitted earlier this year – not something you could say about Chelsea of late.
Much like the requirements for Jardim though, Abramovich would have to go against his every instinct for Sarri to succeed. Unlike Jardim however, Sarri has refused to sign a contract extension with Napoli and, thanks to his time working with the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, speaks perfect English.
Is the Premier League ready for a chain-smoking former banker with a hatred of the transfer market and a penchant for drones? Not sure. But we certainly are.