Chelsea caught short by a lack of viable alternatives

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Chelsea certainly thought they had their man. All day Saturday the Premiership club awaited a statement from the Football Association announcing that the coup to capture Sven Goran Eriksson was under way. But the statement didn't come at lunchtime, it did not come at 2.30pm. And, of course, it did not come at all.

As Peter Kenyon, the chief executive, strode from Stamford Bridge at just after 7.30pm, and quickly scrambled into the blacked-out chauffeur-driven Range Rover that awaited him, he appeared angry. It certainly was not the demeanour of a man who had got his way. His annoyance could also not be simply explained by that morning's headlines after his latest clandestine meeting with Eriksson had been rumbled. Instead Kenyon looked like someone who had seen his quarry slip from him. Again. Eriksson had been wooed before by Kenyon - when the latter was at Manchester United and seeking a successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.

The knowledge that this is the second time Kenyon has made a hash of employing Eriksson will not go down well with his own new boss, Roman Abramovich. Neither will the realisation that Kenyon has rapidly turned the club into United's rival as the most disliked in England. His ham-fisted behaviour has also made Claudio Ranieri appear a martyr and - amazingly - led to rumblings of discontent over the saviour Abramovich from some Chelsea fans. Most of the anger is directed at Kenyon - with banners confiscated from several fans on their way to Saturday's game calling for the new man to depart. "Judas" was one of the milder rebukes.

Kenyon has admitted holding "informal discussions" with Eriksson - but insisted he did not offer him the Stamford Bridge manager's job. When the dust settles even the most myopic will realise Chelsea have committed a huge PR blunder not least for their treatment of Ranieri whose position is now untenable. The Italian, contracted to 2007, knows he is going and, at the weekend, revealed he realised the game was up for him the moment Abramovich arrived.

Ranieri also said that he remained this season only because his employers failed to land a better coach. In other words, in their eyes at least, Eriksson.

What now? A short-list does exist for whom to employ. The criteria is extremely narrow and, unfortunately, every name on it is problematic. Abramovich wants a big-name coach. Like the arriviste he is, labels matter. So it has to be someone like Eriksson. He also wants to entertain. He has business contacts to impress - and Chelsea is his team.

First up, and most easily dismissed, is Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal manager will never move to Chelsea. Fabio Capello, the Roma coach, is closely monitoring events at the Bridge. Again he fits the bill, having spent six years at Milan and one at Real Madrid, but will drive a hard bargain if he is to move and he can be unremittingly dour. Chelsea are already thought to have held talks with Bayern Munich's Ottmar Hitzfeld, although the German - who has won the European Cup with two different clubs - does not want to commit for more than two years.

An undoubted contender is Milan's Carlo Ancelotti who is on course to retain the European Cup and win his first scudetto as coach, but Ancelotti has his dream job - he was a Milan player and fan - and would be extremely difficult to prise away.

That constitutes Chelsea's original short-list. Beyond it other names have been mentioned - Juventus' Marcello Lippi, Louis van Gaal, the technical director at Ajax, and Porto's Jose Mourinho among them. All are unlikely to satisfy Abramovich. Didier Deschamps - a former Chelsea player - is gaining a burgeoning reputation at Monaco while Portugal's coach, Felipe Scolari, would be an imaginative choice. Domestically, Martin O'Neill has been touted along with Steve McClaren. Most improbable is Ferguson. There has been a flurry of activity among the bookmakers concerning the United manager and though it is inconceivable that he would join Chelsea, stranger things have happened. Primarily, of course, at Chelsea.

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