Jorge Sampaoli emerges as serious candidate in search for the next Chelsea manager
Jorge Sampaoli has become a serious candidate in Roman Abramovich’s search for his next permanent Chelsea manager.
The former Chile manager has talked his way into the reckoning alongside Atlético Madrid’s Diego Simeone, whose status as the early front-runner has slipped, Italy coach Antonio Conte and Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri.
Juventus are ready to fight to keep Allegri by offering him a new contract until 2018, which could strengthen the cases of Sampaoli, Conte and Simeone.
Sampaoli, who won the Copa América with Chile last year and was shortlisted for coach of the year with Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique, has strengthened his case after making it clear he wants to manage in England and that Chelsea would be a project he would jump at.
Despite lacking the big European club experience of Simeone, Allegri and Conte, Sampaoli’s style of energetic, high-pressing football is attractive to Chelsea owner Abramovich.
Like the rest of Chelsea’s leading candidates, Sampaoli does not speak fluent English, although he is learning. But that would not necessarily create a big language barrier among the club’s current squad – particularly with captain John Terry unlikely to stay past the end of this season.
Argentine pair Sampaoli and Simeone could communicate with a large portion of the Chelsea first-team players in Spanish while they learnt English.
Despite reservations over his style of play at Atletico Madrid, Simeone has not been ruled out but would comfortably be the most expensive option who would demand the greatest control.
Allegri boasts an impressive CV with Juventus and is seen as the type of calming influence that Chelsea may need following Jose Mourinho, but the Italian club will try to keep him with the offer of a new deal.
Conte’s contract as Italy coach runs out after the European Championship and the 46-year-old is under careful consideration, although allies of Abramovich are concerned about his combative nature.
Chelsea also have a contingency list of managers they will turn to if they cannot land or decide against their top targets that includes Mark Hughes and Claudio Ranieri. Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe is highly rated by the Chelsea hierarchy, but the 38-year-old is more likely to be considered once the job next comes up and he has gained more top-flight experience.
The final decision will be made by Abramovich, technical director Michael Emenalo and director Marina Granovskaia, although the Russian billionaire has also taken soundings from former Chelsea manager Avram Grant.
Despite being sacked by Abramovich in 2008, Grant remains close to him and his opinion is still valued – as was proved by Chelsea’s signing of left-back Baba Rahman, whom Grant manages for Ghana and recommended to his old club. Interim manager Guus Hiddink is likely to be asked his opinion regarding Chelsea’s next permanent manager by Abramovich.
Although Hiddink’s unbeaten run since taking over from Mourinho ended on Tuesday night, Chelsea are still very much alive in the Champions League last-16 tie against Paris St-Germain after only losing the first leg 2-1.
John Obi Mikel scored Chelsea’s vital away goal in Paris and the midfielder has been one of the players to profit most from Hiddink’s return, as the Nigerian has returned to the team and been a regular under the Dutchman.
Striker Diego Costa has regained his scoring touch under Hiddink, while Willian, Pedro Rodríguez and Oscar have all performed well for the 69-year-old.
Mikel played under Hiddink during his first spell in caretaker charge in 2009 and can judge his strengths against a host of Chelsea’s other managers, having been at the club for 10 years.
“I’ve seen them all,” said Mikel of Chelsea’s managers. “Guus has come in again and settled things. Players feel free to play and free to have responsibility and thrive on responsibility, but do it in a very relaxed way, which is sometimes what players need. Guus has come in and done that. We’re picking up results in the league and we’re very much in this tie.”
Terry remains unsure whether he will be fit to face Manchester City in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Sunday as he attempts to recover from a hamstring injury.