Despite winning his first-ever major trophy with a 4-1 Europa League final win over Arsenal, Maurizio Sarri looks set to swap Chelsea for Juventus this summer.
Sarri looked lost for words as he gazed lovingly at his winner’s medal but despite that and a third-place finish in the Premier League, the Italian has come in for plenty of stick during his first season at Stamford Bridge.
And now, despite him reportedly being willing to stay on for a second year providing the Chelsea hierarchy further buy into his methods, it looks like his brief time in London is already up, with the Serie A champions keen to bring in Sarri to replace the outgoing Massimiliano Allegri.
So, if Sarri is to leave Chelsea off the back of a Europa League triumph, with his head held high, who are the candidates to take over his vacated dugout? Squawka has taken a look at the dream, realistic and wildcard options.
Dream: Massimiliano Allegri
There isn’t really a box this doesn’t tick. Sarri is set to replace Allegri, who was immensely successful at Juventus, so why not just make the old switch?
Allegri has mopped up five consecutive Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias and two Champions League final appearances during his time with the Old Lady and would arrive at Chelsea with pedigree and one of the most proven track records in the game.
Morever, Chelsea have an affinity with Italian managers. To date, the Londoners have had no fewer than six tacticians from Italy: Gianluca Vialli, Claudio Ranieri, Carlo Ancelotti, Roberto Di Matteo, Antonio Conte and Sarri. Between them, they have won 13 trophies, 41.94% of their entire haul. In fact, Ranieri is the only Italian to leave Stamford Bridge without some kind of silverware.
With Allegri heading for the Turin exit door already, no fee would be required to release him from his contract, while the 51-year-old has already expressed a desire to jump straight back into management.
“I’m not especially looking for a year off,” he said. “I’ll only take a sabbatical if I have to. Otherwise, my plan is to find a project that convinces me.”
Chelsea can’t sign new players but they do have Champions League football, a host of talented youngsters for Allegri to develop – such as Callum Hudson-Odoi and Mason Mount – and the arrival of Christian Pulisic to help soften the blow of Eden Hazard’s almost certain departure to Real Madrid. He and Chelsea could both do much, much worse.
Dream: Erik ten Hag
With a fraction of the budget of the teams they knocked out along the way, Ajax captured the hearts and minds of football romantics across Europe with their run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Complimented by youngsters such as Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Erik ten Hag was able to turn Dusan Tadic into a ruthless attacker, Daley Blind into a defensive rock and his entire Ajax team into miracle workers.
But just like his playing squad, that success – coupled with their capture of the domestic double in Holland – has led to inevitable links away from the Amsterdam giants.
Ten Hag recently admitted he was ‘flattered’ to be linked with the likes of Chelsea and Barcelona and although he did state he was happy and planning for a future with Ajax, the managerial pieces are moving much quicker than they were a couple of weeks ago.
The Dutchman has already shown his ability to work wonders with a low budget, an absolute necessity for any Chelsea manager next season, while he has played a massive role in developing the likes of De Ligt and De Jong alongside Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and co.
If Hazard should leave Chelsea, they would have to place great faith in the development of Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek once they recover from their respective injuries, while they will live in hope that Pulisic can quickly adapt to Premier League life.
A manager who has honed his craft with Ajax – arguably football’s greatest academy – and who has also worked under Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich would certainly give the Blues a chance of success.
Squawka suggests: Max Allegri
Ten Hag has proven his worth on a small budget but he still has much to learn and simply doesn’t have the pedigree of Allegri. The Italian’s giant trophy haul would demand the instant respect of the Chelsea dressing room and if he can navigate their transfer ban, will then be free to put together a squad to once again challenge for the Premier League. League titles are Allegri’s speciality.
Realistic: Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard called reports linking him with the Chelsea job as ‘easy’ and it’s certainly not hard to spot why. 211 goals in 648 games, three Premier League titles, four FA Cups, two League Cups, a Europa League and a Champions League will make for easy, romantic links.
“Frank Lampard may not have too much managerial experience but as a Chelsea legend, he understands the club and the expectations of the fans. With him at the helm, we may finally see the academy being used after his work with Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori at Derby, especially if the transfer ban is upheld.”
Squawka writer and Chelsea supporter Harry Edwards on Frank Lampard’s Chelsea links.
In truth, it would be a complete flip of a coin as to whether or not Chelsea would be making the right choice by appointing Lampard. On the one hand, he brilliantly guided Derby County all the way to the Championship play-off final with a young squad, patched together with loan signings. On the other hand, he fell at the final hurdle – something Chelsea notoriously lack patience with – and has just 57 games worth of senior management experience under his belt.
However, should Chelsea move for him, it almost goes without saying that Lampard would jump at the chance, while Derby would find it very difficult to stand in his way.
Realistic: Javi Gracia
Despite taking a thrashing against Manchester City at Wembley, Watford did fantastically well to reach the FA Cup final at the expense of the likes of Wolves and Leicester City. And as much as they fell away in the Premier League once that final appearance was booked, it felt for a long time that the Hornets were good to finish in the top-half of the table. Eleventh is still a far cry from the relegation battles this club have often endured in the top flight.
The mastermind behind this wondrous campaign was Javi Gracia, the man who wasn’t sacked by the club that only knows how to sack and who is now being heavily linked with Chelsea. If you look at the four teams that finished directly above Watford – West Ham with Felipe Anderson, Leicester City with James Maddison, Everton with Richarlison and Wolves with half the Portuguese national team – it makes absolute sense that they would finish where they did, budgets often speak loudest in the Premier League.
Nevertheless, Watford remained in the conversation for ‘best of the rest’ for much of 2018/19 and finished just seven points behind Wolves in the end.
Under Gracia, Chelsea would likely take up a 4-2-2-2 formation with N’Golo Kante partnering Jorginho in a solid yet technically gifted midfield base, while the likes of Hudson-Odoi, Pulisic and Loftus-Cheek could run riot further ahead. Chelsea supporters would certainly get that highly-sought blend of academy graduates and expensive stars taking the field.
Just like Ten Hag – albeit to a smaller degree – Gracia has proved he can do it on a small budget and in essence, he would be expected to do it on no budget during the early stages of his Chelsea tenure. That experience could be vital.
Squawka suggests: Javi Gracia
If you’re going with your heart, of course, you pick Lampard. But great football clubs aren’t run with hearts, they’re run with heads.
Lampard is still in the formative stages of his managerial development and must be allowed to learn away from the spotlight of a club like Chelsea. Sure, he could be a raging success. But if he isn’t, it could ruin his reputation beyond repair.
With his experience in building teams with small budgets, Gracia could be the perfect man to guide Chelsea through what is likely to be a testing period with the loss of Hazard and the Fifa-imposed transfer ban, while Watford would be absolutely powerless to stop him leaving.
Wildcard: Patrick Vieira
Controversial, left-field suggestions are what the wildcard section is all about and few fit that description more than former Arsenal captain, Patrick Vieira. The man who won three Premier League title with the Gunners and lost just two of his 18 meetings with Chelsea.
But this is football, who’d have thought Jose Mourinho could manage both Chelsea and Manchester United? And did you know legendary United manager Matt Busby made a combined 351 appearances for arch-rivals Liverpool and Manchester City as a player?
As a manager, Vieira is certainly showing promise. During his spell with New York City FC, the Frenchman gradually improved his side’s league position, taking them from 17th in 2015 to fourth in 2016 and then second in 2017.
Since taking charge of Nice in June 2018, Vieira has lost just 13 of his 41 games so far and guided them to an impressive seventh-place finish. Even more remarkable is that he did so while scoring just 30 goals in 38 games – along with champions Paris Saint-Germain, Nice conceded just 35 goals all season, a record only bettered by runners-up, Lille (33).
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Some of Chelsea’s greatest-ever sides – including Mourinho’s 2004/05 title-winners who conceded just 15 goals – have been predicated on a great defence. With Hazard heading for the Bernabeu, Vieira could call upon his acumen in this department to keep Chelsea competitive.
Wildcard: Nuno Espirito Santo
Nuno Espirito Santo seems to have a mini-revolution bubbling along at Wolves and is totally in tune with the club’s fanbase, hence why this one is a wildcard.
Wolves finished seventh in the Premier League last season, pulling off brilliant results against a number of the division’s behemoths, while they really should have seen off Watford to reach the FA Cup final after taking a 2-0 lead.
Their relationship with super-agent Jorge Mendes has helped them adjust wonderfully to life in the top flight but none of this would have been possible without the brilliant work of their Portuguese tactician.
Despite his love for the Midlands club, it’s hard to see Espirito Santo rejecting Chelsea, should the chance present itself. His work with the likes of Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho also shows he is absolutely fine taking charge of big name players, a must for any Chelsea manager.
Chelsea would likely have to part with a sizeable sum of money to convince Wolves to release their manager but if they can’t spend it on players, they might as well make sure they get the best manager possible.
Squawka suggests: Nuno Espirito Santo
Vieira is doing a fine job with Nice and will likely go on to achieve managerial greatness but right now, Espirito Santo is the better choice.
He already has managerial experience in the Premier League, has proven he can handle the big names and is highly ambitious. Despite the transfer ban and Hazard’s likely departure, the Blues still have a top-class squad to work with.
Best of all, he isn’t an Arsenal legend!