The men who could replace Benitez at Chelsea

Posted by Phil Lythell

La LigaPA PhotosDiego Simeone has spearheaded Atletico's resurgence over the past year

It's almost ten years since Roman Abramovich swept into Stamford Bridge and permanently changed the history of Chelsea FC, and with it the landscape of English football.

It has been a decade full of constant surprises from deadline-day purchases to spur-of-the-moment managerial changes. In fact, perhaps the only predictable element of his ownership has been his unpredictability.

- Benitez would consider Spain job

One thing we can be certain of, however, is that Chelsea will be seeking to employ their tenth different manager of Abramovich's reign. Following an uninspiring opening to his tenure, Rafael Benitez is likely to need a 100 percent winning record from now until the end of season -- picking up the FA Cup, UEFA Europa League and second place in the Premier League on the way -- to stand any chance of extending his stay, and even then he would be odds against doing so. Even if the owner was won over, it would be surprising to see the Spaniard appointed permanently in the face of such antipathy from the club's supporters. Although Abramovich has rarely seen the need to indulge the fans, he is intelligent enough to know when to stop banging his head against a brick wall.

So who could be filling Benitez's sizeable suit on the touchline next season? It's not going to be Pep Guardiola, that's for sure; something that was as clear as day even before his move to Bayern Munich was announced. A man that demands control of team affairs and needed a sabbatical just four years into his career after struggling to cope with the demands of the job was never going to work for an owner who wants a hand in every element of the club and who will let the axe fall at a moment's notice should he become displeased.

With Barcelona's favourite son out of the running, the focus inevitably shifts to Jose Mourinho and an emotional return to his spiritual home. This is a story that has reared its head every year since Mourinho's departure in September 2007, with the exception of the 2009-10 season, when Carlo Ancelotti was fortunately spared the speculation after leading the team to the double.

This year the possibility of the Special One renewing acquaintances with the West London club does have a certain logic to it. Mourinho will almost certainly leave Real Madrid in the summer, and with PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea the only viable destinations for him, his next employer depends on how the managerial merry-go-round develops over the coming months.

Should Ancelotti fail to deliver the Ligue 1 title and bow out of the Champions League before the semi-final, there will almost certainly be a vacancy in Paris. Roberto Mancini's future at the Etihad Stadium is up in the air following a disappointing defence of City's maiden Premier League title and a humiliating display in Europe, though a strong finish could see his services retained.

Yet even if Chelsea remains Mourinho's only option, it is hard to see him coming back to SW6. The Portuguese is highly intelligent; every decision he makes is perfectly calculated, and he will question what he could possibly prove by coming back to Stamford Bridge. He has won every domestic trophy in England, which leaves only the Champions League. However, with the club becoming the first from London to lift the trophy there is nothing left for him to deliver to the fans that they haven't experienced already other than the backhanded compliment that is the Europa League.

As much as re-hiring Mourinho would bolster Abramovich's relations with the supporters, likelier candidates for the post currently work in opposing dugouts in La Liga. Diego Simeone's stock has only risen since he began his managerial career at Racing Club in Buenos Aires. He led Atletico Madrid to victory in last season's Europa League, and his team currently sit above their illustrious city neighbours in the Primera Division. The major mark against his name is his inability to speak English, which is far from ideal, though if he is able to bring Radamel Falcao with him from the Vicente Calderon that blemish might be overlooked.

Manuel Pellegrini has been another name mentioned in dispatches following his star turn with Malaga, taking them to a fourth-place finish last term and a knockout-stage berth in this season's Champions League. The Chilean's five-year stint at Villarreal was also one of unprecedented success, when only a missed Juan Roman Riquelme penalty against Arsenal stood between them and the Champions League final in 2006. He did get fired by Real Madrid for finishing second behind Barcelona but that should make him even more suitable for the life at Chelsea. Like Simeone, his lack of English is a concern, but Ancelotti was able to adapt quickly under similar circumstances so it might not be a complete hindrance.

The most eye-opening name that has been mentioned in connection with the Chelsea job has been Everton's David Moyes. That is not to say that the Scot is not up to the task, simply that he represents a sensible, qualified option while also failing to exude the exotic appeal that Abramovich normally swoons over. Some might claim that Moyes has no experience of Champions League football, handling star names, making effective use of big transfer budgets or fighting for the title, though that is hardly his fault. He has worked wonders with the Toffees and he should not be damned purely because he has not had the opportunity to operate at the top table.

Yet while all these figures could quite easily be named the next Chelsea boss, it would not be in the least bit surprising if the Russian billionaire went completely left field and plucked another name from thin air. If that does happen, at least Blues fans can take comfort from the fact that Benitez's name will not be in contention.

Follow Phil Lythell on Twitter @PhilLythell

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