Football Features

Ranked: Every Chelsea manager of the Roman Abramovich era

By Harry Edwards

Published: 18:35, 25 January 2022

Since Roman Abramovich took over 18-and-a-half years ago, Chelsea have enjoyed unprecedented success.

As a result of the Russian’s quest for glory in England and abroad, the Blues have gone through a large number of managers with few lasting more than two seasons before being sacked.

Thomas Tuchel is the man currently trying his luck at the Stamford Bridge helm, completing his first year since replacing club legend Frank Lampard in January 2021.

The German started life in London in the best possible way, leading the Blues to Champions League glory as well as a top-four finish and FA Cup final – tidying up the minor mess Lampard had left.

But, where does Tuchel, and the likes of Sarri, Conte and Mourinho, rank among those who have sat in the dugout during Roman Abramovich’s 18-and-a-half-year spell as Chelsea owner?

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15. Andre Villas-Boas

Reign: 2011-2012

Trophies: None

Record: P40 W19 D11 L10

When Andre Villas-Boas was named the next Chelsea manager following Carlo Ancelotti’s departure, the buzz was high around the man dubbed the next Mourinho.

Villas-Boas was fresh off the back of glory with Porto and had productive ideas about how the club should play and introducing younger players.

But the Portuguese manager was ultimately too fast in trying to phase out Chelsea’s older guard as performances suffered and another trophyless season looked to be looming.

Even more unfortunately for Villas-Boas, the former manager had to watch on as his players went on to win the FA Cup and Champions League just two months after his sacking.

14. Felipe Scolari

Reign: 2008-2009

Trophies: None

Record: P36 W20 D11 L5

Chelsea fans were excited in the summer of 2008 when former Brazil and Portugal boss Felipe Scolari was announced as the club’s next manager.

But that excitement was short-lived as the Blues looked uninspired and the first rumours of player power at the club broke through.

Despite being third in the league at the time of Scolari’s departure, Chelsea looked like they were going nowhere under the Brazilian, who later claimed he was sacked for “communication issues” – not being fluent in English.

13. Guus Hiddink II

Reign: 2015-2016

Trophies: None

Record: P27 W10 D11 L6

The 2015/16 season was one to forget for Chelsea as Guus Hiddink was required for a second time to turn tides at the club with Mourinho sacked and the Blues 16th.

With Chelsea already out of the League Cup, Hiddink saw his side fall out of the Champions League to Paris Saint-Germain for the second consecutive season and a quarter-final defeat to Everton in the FA Cup.

A 10th-placed finish was achieved in the Premier League but Hiddink’s second reign was nowhere near as successful as his first, winning just 10 of his 27 games.

12. Claudio Ranieri

Reign: 2000-2004

Trophies: None

Record: P184 W95 D44 L45

The first manager under Roman Abramovich, Claudio Ranieri had just one season at the club in the new ownership.

Ranieri had done well with Chelsea in the years leading up to the club’s sale, leading them to the 2002 FA Cup final and slowly moving them up the league as well as seeing the breakthrough of one John Terry and purchase of Frank Lampard.

Under Abramovich, Ranieri’s Chelsea finished second in the Premier League behind Arsenal’s Invincibles – a noble feat given how the Gunners pushed for their title.

Ranieri also led Chelsea to the Champions League semi-finals, beating Arsenal in the quarter-finals, but it was his decision making against Monaco which would ultimately end his time at the club.

With Chelsea drawing 1-1 in the first leg and with a man advantage, Ranieri would make negative substitutions allowing Monaco into the game to score two more before the match was up.

In the second leg, a 2-0 lead which would have seen Chelsea reach the final was ultimately surrendered and saw Ranieri tarnished.

11. Frank Lampard

Newcastle vs Chelsea

Reign: 2019-2021

Trophies: None

Record: P84 W44 D17 L23

Frank Lampard’s performances in his first season as Chelsea manager were always going to be assessed sympathetically, given the various obstacles he had to face including being unable to make any signings to replace Eden Hazard. But the club legend didn’t do too bad of a job. He secured Champions League football for 2020/21 playing with a fairly youthful team, and reached the FA Cup final.

However, the Blues were ultimately beaten in that final by Arsenal and pulled apart by Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16. As a result he spent a king’s ransom over the summer and attempted to transform Chelsea into genuine title contenders this season, but things didn’t quite work out that way.

Big-money purchases Timo Werner and Kai Havertz struggled immeasurably to adapt to Lampard’s system, and it cost the Chelsea legend his job. At the time of his departure, Chelsea were ninth in the Premier League (11 points off top) and Lampard left with the lowest points per game ratio of any Chelsea manager in the Abramovich era. His struggles were also made worse by what followed (though he did restore some life to the club, so we’ll put him above Ranieri).

10. Avram Grant

Reign: 2007-2008

Trophies: None

Record: P54 W36 D13 L5

As Jose Mourinho’s first spell fell through, director of football Avram Grant was the surprise announcement as next Chelsea manager.

But the Israeli did well in charge of the club, leading them close to three titles – but it was his lack of trophies, the first since 2003/04 for Chelsea – which eventually saw him leave at the end of the season.

In the Premier League, the Blues pushed Manchester United to the final day of the season thanks to a run which saw them beat the Red Devils in late April.

The League Cup saw a final appearance, though the Blues lost to Tottenham Hotspur, while Chelsea were shocked in the FA Cup losing 1-0 to Barnsley in the quarter-finals.

Grant did, however, lead Chelsea to their first ever Champions League final and came within a post of winning the trophy as John Terry missed from the penalty spot with the chance to win against Manchester United – who would claim glory two scored penalties later.

9. Rafael Benitez

Reign: 2012-13

Trophies: 1 Europa League

Record: P48 W28 D10 L10

Prior to Maurizio Sarri, Rafael Benitez was undoubtedly the most unpopular of Chelsea appointments under Abramovich given his Liverpool background and previous comments on the club. But the Spaniard was brought in to steady the ship, rather than build for the future.

Picking up from Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea in the Europa League, Benitez did not get off to the best start without a win in his first three and losing the Club World Cup final to Corinthians.

But with progress in the Premier League slowly picking up, Benitez made sure the Europa League was not treated lightly as the Blues pushed towards the final.

Chelsea would eventually finish third in the Premier League, guaranteeing their place in the following season’s Champions League and providing the foundations which would later be built upon.

The biggest success, however, did come in the Europa League as Chelsea won the final against Benfica in Amsterdam – at least for a few days, making them the only team to hold both European trophies simultaneously.

8. Maurizio Sarri

Reign: 2018-2019

Trophies: Europa League

Record: P63 W38 D14 L11

Sarri enjoyed a good start to life in London, going unbeaten in his first 12 Premier League games.

Chelsea were playing exciting attacking football but that form soon tailed off rather spectacularly, and questions about how long Sarri would last at Stamford Bridge have now been answered as the 60-year-old leaves the Blues after just one full season.

Sarri did manage to depart with his first ever major trophy as a manager with a convincing 4-1 win over Arsenal, and can therefore see himself above the likes of Grant and on par with Benitez.

7. Guus Hiddink I

Reign: 2009

Trophies: FA Cup

Record: P22 W16 D5 L1

The first Chelsea interim manager under Roman Abramovich, Hiddink did inherit a team with the foundations of success with Scolari.

Losing just one game from 22 under Hiddink (a 1-0 defeat to Tottenham) the Blues pushed hard for another Premier League title but were ultimately too far off the pace when the Dutchman arrived.

But they did find glory in the FA Cup, beating Everton 2-1 at Wembley, and were close to reaching a second-consecutive Champions League final but for a 1-1 draw with Barcelona littered with controversy.

Hiddink’s spell at the club led fans to hope and chant for his permanent stay but the manager left at the end of the season to continue his role as manager of the Russian national team which included a run to the semi-finals of Euro 2008.

6. Roberto Di Matteo

Reign: 2012

Trophies: 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup

Record: P42 W25 D8 L9

A man originally brought in just to see out the season following Villas-Boas departure, former Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo (who was assistant under Villas-Boas) would go on to lead the club to a first ever Champions League trophy.

Turning back to the old names that Villas-Boas had tried to push out, one of Di Matteo’s first tasks was to record a rarely seen two-goal comeback in the Champions League to Napoli, before Benfica and Barcelona fell.

Then came Bayern Munich in the final at the Allianz Arena, just two weeks after Chelsea had lifted the FA Cup, with a penalty shootout win giving the club their only European Cup.

The Blues did finish sixth in the Premier League, however, and only qualified to the following season’s Champions League as a result of winning the competition.

But their defence lasted just up until the group stages as they were demoted to the Europa League and Di Matteo sacked following a poor start as permanent manager.

5. Thomas Tuchel

Reign: 2021-

Trophies: 1 Champions League, 1 UEFA Super Cup

Record: P67 W40 D18 L9

Following a Chelsea legend was always going to be a tough ask for Thomas Tuchel, even when that legend struggled as a manager (putting aside his playing career). But Tuchel took just six months to write himself into the Chelsea history books.

When he took over, Chelsea faced an uphill battle for qualify for the Champions League, but Tuchel sorted out their defence with his move to three-at-the-back and went unbeaten in his first 14 games across all competitions, conceding just twice.

Chelsea haven’t been perfect under Tuchel, particularly in attack, and they ultimately scraped into the top four while also losing the FA Cup final, but the German delivered the big one – Chelsea’s second ever Champions League title with a 1-0 win over Manchester City.

His first full season started with success too, winning the UEFA Super Cup on penalties and the Blues were flying in the early stages of the campaign. Tuchel is currently experiencing his first proper rocky patch as a Chelsea manager but he seems set to last (rightfully so) and has the EFL Cup Final and Club World Cup on the horizon. Oh, and he’s The Best Men’s Coach in the world.

4. Jose Mourinho II

Reign: 2013-2015

Trophies: 1 Premier League, 1 League Cup

Record: P136 W80 D27 L29

Dubbing himself ‘The Happy One’ on his return to Chelsea in 2013, Jose Mourinho was tasked with leading the transition of an ageing team coupled with some young talent.

The first season saw small growth in the Chelsea side as they finished third behind Manchester City and Liverpool but Mourinho did well to see John Terry back into the team after Benitez and Villas-Boas had spoken of a limited future.

Mourinho would then go on to continue his personal tradition of winning the league title in his second season at a club with Chelsea easing their way to the 2014/15 Premier League, blowing teams away in the first half before shutting up shop following a 5-3 defeat to Tottenham at the turn of 2015.

A League Cup success also came that season, with talents such as Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas brought into the team as well as establishing Thibaut Courtois as number one, replacing club legend Petr Cech.

But things would turn sour the following season as Mourinho lasted just four months with Chelsea close to the relegation zone and his sacking labelled due to ‘palpable discord’ within the team.

3. Antonio Conte

Reign: 2016-2018

Trophies: 1 Premier League, 1 FA Cup

Record: P106 W69 D17 L20

With the Mourinho project having failed to work out second time around, fresh off a 10th-placed finish, Antonio Conte was given the hard task of transforming a dishevelled Chelsea team into title contenders.

And it originally looked as though the Italian would be unable to change their luck, with two consecutive defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal, the second a 3-0 humiliation, causing Conte’s odds on being sacked to shorten.

But then something clicked as Conte changed formation to a three at the back, pushing the once lost Victor Moses in at wing-back and Chelsea went on a 13-game winning run which included six consecutive clean sheets and saw wins come against Manchester United, Tottenham and Manchester City; only the second team to achieve such a streak at the time.

This was the catalyst for Chelsea’s Premier League title win, with the Blues winning 30 Premier League games – a new record until Pep Guardiola’s City rewrote the history books in 2017/18.

Conte reached the FA Cup final in each of his two seasons at the club, losing to Arsenal in 2016/17 before the victory over Manchester United – his final game in charge of Chelsea.

Conte’s second season was not as great, with the Blues losing on the opening day to Burnley in what was originally a shock (though possibly served as an example of things to come for the Clarets).

Defeats to the likes of West Ham, Watford, Bournemouth and a 3-0 loss to Benitez’s Newcastle on the final day summed up Chelsea’s season despite winning the FA Cup, with the 28-year home record against Tottenham also falling.

2. Carlo Ancelotti

Reign: 2009-2011

Trophies: 1 Premier League, 1 FA Cup

Record: P109 W67 D20 L22

Following an unsuccessful appointment of Scolari in 2008 and Hiddink’s return to Russia, up next for the permanent role was Carlo Ancelotti.

And the Italian was a success domestically for Chelsea, leading them to the Premier League and FA Cup double – the only time the club has achieved this in their history.

During their Premier League win, the Blues scored a then-record-breaking 103 goals (until City came along) including 7+ on four occasions, with an 8-0 win over Wigan Athletic on the final day sealing the title before a 1-0 win over Portsmouth wrapped up the FA Cup.

However, his second season was not as successful in the eyes of the owner as he posted just 71 points – the lowest under Abramovich at the time – and was reportedly sacked in the tunnel following a 1-0 away loss to Everton on the final day of the 2010/11 campaign.

1. Jose Mourinho I

Reign: 2004-2007

Trophies: 2 Premier Leagues, 2 League Cups, 1 FA Cup

Record: P185 W124 D40 L21

As the man himself likes to point out, the best Chelsea manager in the club’s history, Mourinho’s first spell at the club has been unrivalled in Abramovich’s 15-year spell as owner and maybe for some time.

Fresh from winning the Champions League with Porto in 2004, Mourinho built a formidable team at Chelsea with one of the best defences the Premier League have seen.

Going up against Arsenal’s Invincibles of the previous season, Chelsea lost just one game to a questionable penalty against Manchester City and conceded 15 goals – at an average of 0.39 per game.

The Blues would break the Premier League record for most points, 95, which stood until Manchester City hit triple digits in 2017/18.

A successful defence followed – the only one in Chelsea’s history – with another impressive season before Mourinho won the FA Cup in 2007 to cap off his domestic trophy success.

The Special One indeed.