Hitzfeld claim suggests Ranieri's time is almost over

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the clearest sign to date that Claudio Ranieri's days at Stamford Bridge are numbered, Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Bayern Munich coach, yesterday claimed that Chelsea contacted him with a view to his becoming their manager next season.

In the clearest sign to date that Claudio Ranieri's days at Stamford Bridge are numbered, Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Bayern Munich coach, yesterday claimed that Chelsea contacted him with a view to his becoming their manager next season.

Hitzfeld, who has won the European Cup with Borussia Dortmund and Bayern, said he rejected the enquiry but the news puts further pressure on Ranieri. Though Chelsea's chief executive, Peter Kenyon, denied Hitzfeld's claim it seems inevitable the Italian will go at the end of the season, possibly even if he wins the European Cup.

Hitzfeld's revelation also confirms Sven Goran Eriksson's promise that he has not agreed a deal with the club, despite taking tea with Roman Abramovich soon after the Russian bought Chelsea. Eriksson is still seen as the preferred option at Chelsea but the club are evidently not confident of getting their man. Unfortunately for them Eriksson is unlikely to make any kind of commitment until after the European Championships.

Hitzfeld told the German tabloid Bild: "I have received an offer [from Chelsea] but I will fulfil my contract at Bayern until 2005." Kenyon responded: "This is totally untrue and without any foundation whatsoever. Chelsea have not made any approach to Ottmar Hitzfeld."

The likelihood is that both men are telling the truth - sort of - with Hitzfeld being sounded out by a third party rather than offered the post. The 55-year-old German, who was offered the Tottenham job before Christian Gross, was never likely to respond positively to Chelsea. Abramovich can offer untold riches, and the chance to be the first manager to win the European Cup with three different teams, but Hitzfeld has a bigger prize in his sights. The former schoolteacher is under pressure at Bayern after two successive failed European campaigns, and a poor league season, but he remains in line to take over as Germany's national coach from Rudi Voller ahead of the 2006 World Cup. Hitzfeld does not want to jeopardize that prospect.

With Hitzfeld turning them down Chelsea's options, should Eriksson seek to take England to the 2006 World Cup, are diminishing. The view inside the club is that there are five managers of the first rank in the European game: Eriksson, Hitzfeld, Arsène Wenger, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, the coach of European Cup holders Milan. Wenger is seen as unreachable, he is too committed to Arsenal. Capello is regarded as likely to demand too much power within the club. There is also concern over his poor English. Which leaves Ancelotti although, since Milan are backed by the media empire of Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian premier, he will not be easy to prise away.

If all five men prove inaccessible Chelsea must then look at the likes of Carlos Queiroz, the former Manchester United number two now coaching Real Madrid, who is thought vulnerable despite impending success, or Porto's Jose Mourinho.

Ranieri, meanwhile, must manage a Chelsea squad which knows he is a condemned man. It is a hard judgement. Though unlikely to match the 1955 team's League title triumph, Chelsea are enjoying the best season, results-wise, in their history. It seems even a European Cup win, which would probably require Chelsea successively defeating Arsenal, Real Madrid and Milan, may not be enough to save him. Unless Abramovich discovers that for all his roubles no one else wants the job.

Comments