Hiddink heads list of Chelsea tough guys to replace Grant
Monday 26 May 2008
Chelsea want a tough disciplinarian manager to succeed Avram Grant – but also, crucially, someone who is willing to discuss team tactics and player selection with club owner Roman Abramovich. The frontrunner is Guus Hiddink, always regarded by those close to Abramovich as his "insurance policy" to take over at Stamford Bridge, followed by Luiz Felipe Scolari. Both are skilled politicians as well as experienced, top-notch coaches, while Blackburn Rovers' Mark Hughes also has his admirers and has emerged as a surprisingly strong candidate over the last few weeks.
The insistence on someone who can take a hard-line approach, what one source called a "tough character", would appear to make other potential candidates such as Frank Rijkaard and Sven Goran Eriksson – who is desperate to succeed Grant – less likely to be chosen. Roberto Mancini's attempts to align himself have, so far, been rebuffed as he does not appear to have the right credentials – and may, amazingly, stay at Internazionale for another season – although another Italian, Marcello Lippi, does.
Hiddink or Rijkaard would be championed by the so-called "Dutch group" at Chelsea, headed by the club's director of youth development Frank Arnesen (himself a Dane) while Scolari or Eriksson would be preferred by the agent Pini Zahavi and his associates who also have a powerful influence.
But only a very small number of people – Abramovich, Chelsea director Eugene Tenenbaum and adviser Eugene Shvidler – know for certain who is on the shortlist to replace Grant and all are said to be relaxed about getting their man. They decided after the FA Cup exit to Barnsley in March that a change needed to be made at the end of the season and stuck with that assessment despite Chelsea reaching the final of the Champions League and finishing second in the Premier League with a strong run-in.
Grant's contract, meanwhile, was terminated after he was called to a meeting at Abramovich's Knightsbridge home on Saturday afternoon just eight months after he took over from Jose Mourinho. During the meeting, which was said to be amicable, Grant turned down the chance to revert to his previous job as director of football and informed them that he preferred to make a clean break. Yesterday he returned to Israel for a holiday after accepting the fixed pay-off, said to be a relatively modest fee, inserted in his four-year contract when he signed it last December. The 53-year-old has been linked with the expected vacancy at Manchester City but although he would like the job he is not understood to rate his chances and wants to take some time off.
The criteria laid down by Chelsea for their fourth manager in the five years of Abramovich's ownership of the club are clear. They want someone with a proven track record of success, a top coach and tactician but there are also two crucial characteristics which are less usual. Firstly they want someone who can take a tough line, which would indicate that the club feel that has been lacking under Grant and Mourinho, and someone who is able to deal decisively with big-name players who, in some cases, have even bigger egos. But it is not just with the playing staff that the new manager needs to be disciplined. Several factions exist, somewhat uneasily, at Chelsea and the new man will be expected to take a clear, hard-line approach to them also.
Chelsea are also looking for someone who is willing to engage with Abramovich and talk to him about the team and tactics – even if it's just a case of sitting with the billionaire over coffee and chatting about football. "He [Abramovich] doesn't want to pick the team but he wants to be in a position whereby he can speak to the manager. He wants to be part of the process," one source said.
This certainly happened in the early days of Mourinho although, quickly, the manager grew annoyed at what he saw as interference and the dialogue dried up. It meant that when it came to Mourinho's successor the Russian billionaire settled upon someone he knew firstly through friendship – and that man was Grant.
But even he grew apart from Abramovich with Grant insisting he wanted to make his own mark. As ever the role of Andrei Shevchenko has been widely debated by those close to Abramovich.
The final criterion is clear: the new manager has to be someone who is able to deal with the expectations of the club. In terms of ticking all the boxes it would appear to indicate Hiddink and Chelsea were yesterday pointing out that the 61-year-old Dutchman has not signed the provisional contract to coach Russia until the 2010 World Cup. And while Hiddink's agent, Cees Van Nieuwenhuizen, was insisting that he would stay in Russia the country's newly appointed sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is also head of the Russian Football Union, said a final decision will be taken after Euro 2008.
Scolari's position is also unclear. He has been in negotiations with City but his wage demands appear set to scupper that deal – he has told friends he is looking for "the biggest deal of his career" if he quits coaching Portugal for club management. While he's not quite the tough man he appears he can keep players in check and is also a skilled operator.
Chelsea insist they are in no rush to make an appointment and, indeed, may have to wait until after the Euros. The futures of assistant coaches Steve Clarke and Henk Ten Cate also need to be resolved with both men likely to depart once a new manager is chosen. Chelsea will also not appoint another director of football, admitting that Grant was only given the job because of a unique set of circumstances.
Mourinho, is expected to resolve his future this week having told friends he is due to take up a job in Italy. Rather than Inter, however, he may make a surprise move to Milan to replace Carlo Ancelotti.
Stamford stampede: Managers in the frame for the Bridge
Has led Inter to the last three Scudetti, although like Grant this season, cup wins have proved beyond him. Lost Saturday's Coppa Italia final to Roma.
Betting: William Hill 4/1; Coral 7/2; Ladbrokes 3/1
Proven winner, with the small matter of a World Cup victory with Italy, on his CV. Big mates with Sir Alex Ferguson, which might not endear him to the Chelsea hierarchy.
Betting: William Hill 25/1; Coral 20/1; Ladbrokes 25/1
Linked with the job when Mourinho left. Sacked by Barcelona after two trophyless seasons, but favours the eye-catching football favoured by a certain oligarch.
Betting: William Hill 11/4; Coral 15/8; Ladbrokes 2/1
A close friend of Roman Abramovich, who pays his wages as Russia coach. Yesterday, rentagob Tommy Docherty said Hiddink would succeed Grant. So probably not, then.
Betting: William Hill 3/1; Coral 7/2; Ladbrokes 5/1
*Luiz Felipe Scolari
World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, took Portugal to the Euro 2004 final. Hard man, great motivator – touchline histrionics the equal of Mourinho's.
Betting: William Hill 12/1; Coral none; Ladbrokes 8/1
*Sven Goran Eriksson
Famously courted by Chelsea when he was still England manager. About to be sacked by Manchester City, but has a handy habit of landing on his feet.
Betting: William Hill 9/1; Coral 8/1; Ladbrokes 8/1
Like Grant, has lost a European Cup final (with Monaco in 2004, to Mourinho's Porto). Took a post-scandal Juventus back to Serie A last year, then resigned.
Betting: William Hill 16/1; Coral 33/1; Ladbrokes 25/1
Kissed and made up with Abramovich, who bought him a limited-edition Ferrari worth around £2m in February. Looks bound for Inter, and yet...
Betting: William Hill 9/1; Coral 10/1; Ladbrokes 14/1
Childhood Chelsea fan and ex-player. Did well as Wales coach (lost to Russia in a Euro 2004 play-off) and has shown a shrewd eye in the transfer market with Blackburn.
Betting: William Hill 8/1; Coral 7/1; Ladbrokes 8/1
Don't laugh – he won more than Grant did this season. And the commute from Sandbanks to Stamford Bridge wouldn't be too daunting.
Betting: William Hill none; Coral none; Ladbrokes 33/1
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