Tuesday 20 February 2018

Chelsea drawing up shortlist of replacements for Mourinho

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman
Southampton manager Ronald Koeman

Matt Law

Chelsea have started to draw up a contingency plan in the event of the owner Roman Abramovich sacking Jose Mourinho as manager.

Mourinho was pushed towards the brink by a ninth Premier League defeat of the season against Leicester City and the club’s board are now deliberating over their next move.

Until such time as Mourinho is sacked, the club insist his position remains unchanged and he is  expected to take training today in preparation for Saturday’s game against Sunderland.

However, for the first time, serious consideration is being given as to what Chelsea would do in the event of a mid-season change. Top targets Pep Guardiola, Diego Simeone and Antonio Conte are not available until the summer, with Guardiola also being pursued by Manchester City.

Less ambitious permanent options include the Southampton manager Ronald Koeman and Sevilla's Unai Emery.

That leaves Chelsea also looking at alternative options, like former manager Carlo Ancelotti, or an experienced caretaker appointment such as Guus Hiddink, also a former Chelsea manager.

The lack of an obvious immediate replacement for Mourinho is believed to have played a major part in the Portuguese surviving until now and the prospect of him clinging on for a while longer has not yet been ruled out.

Ancelotti is the most attractive out-of-work manager, but the Italian has stated that he does not want to take a new job mid-season and is interested in both the Bayern Munich and Manchester United jobs that could become available in the summer.

Hiddink has hinted that he would be interested in replacing Mourinho until the end of the season in what would be a similar scenario to when the Dutchman, 69, last took caretaker charge of Chelsea in February 2009 and finished the season as an FA Cup winner.

Abramovich has attempted to stand by Mourinho and ride out the current storm, but there is growing concern that the 52-year-old will not be able to turn around the club's dreadful run of results.

Chelsea are one point above the Premier League relegation zone, with any hope of finishing in the top four all but gone. Mourinho laid into his players after the Leicester defeat with the bond between him and his squad and relationships between team-mates reaching breaking point.

Diego Costa showed his frustration by accusing the Chelsea defenders of sleeping for Jamie Vardy's opening goal for Leicester and there was internal dispute over exactly where the blame lay.

Mourinho's relationship with Eden Hazard could also be put under more strain if Chelsea's initial optimism that the Belgian could be available for the Sunderland game on Saturday proves to be right.

Hazard is waiting for the results of a scan on the injury that resulted in him effectively substituting himself against Leicester, with Mourinho revealing how the player had first tried to continue before quickly changing his mind.

Immediately after the Leicester game, Hazard was still in great pain and complained that he could barely walk but Mourinho may not be particularly impressed if scans do not show up any damage.

There is also tension among some of the staff, as goalkeeping coach Christophe Lollichon is not believed to be in full agreement with Mourinho's decision to draft Thibaut Courtois straight back into the team ahead of Asmir Begovic, who had deputised well.

Chelsea's players had yesterday off after returning back to London late after the Leicester game and Mourinho decided against forcing them to report for duty as punishment for another defeat.

Sacking Mourinho would cost Chelsea around £10million in compensation. He signed a new four-year contract in August, but it is believed Mourinho would be due either one year's money up front or receive payment until he finds another job. It is hard to imagine he would be out of work for more than a year.

Other than concern growing over results and relationships, extra pressure is being heaped on Mourinho's shoulders by the success of players that have left under his management, including Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Cuadrado. The summer signing of Radamel Falcao has also been questioned. Mourinho has repeatedly insisted that he will not ask the board to overhaul his squad in January if he keeps his job, but he has also hinted that they should be looking at making signings in the transfer window.

"I would like the board to analyse the situation, the budget, the balance of the club, what they are expecting to do or not to do in January," Mourinho said. "I want to make the right decision for the club, this is the most important thing." (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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