Abramovich's reputation grows critical as Chelsea search for new manager
Scarcely a week passes without a new name being installed as the bookmakers' favourite for the Chelsea manager's job.
It's been less than two months since the London club fired Jose Mourinho in dramatic circumstances; since then, the Blues have lost long-term target Pep Guardiola to Manchester City, while Atletico Madrid main-man Diego Simeone -- perceived my many to be the obvious choice with Guardiola off the board -- seems more likely to remain at the Vicente Calderon where he is feted as a god.
In the wake of these developments, outgoing Man City manager Manuel Pellegrini suddenly came into the frame to be Mourinho's long-term successor, if there is such a thing at Chelsea. As have former Chile boss Jorge Sampaoli, Italy coach Antonio Conte and the latest favourite, Juventus chief Massimiliano Allegri, who took over the Old Lady's reigns from Conte.
Having previously guided AC Milan to the Serie A title, Allegri continued Conte's stellar work with Juve, winning the league at the first attempt last season. It was the Italian champions' fourth consecutive Scudetto, but a difficult start to this campaign saw questions being asked of his capabilities. Allegri certainly responded to the challenge by guiding the Bianconeri to 14 straight top-flight victories and counting, a remarkable run that has catapulted the team from 14th to second in the table, two points behind leaders Napoli, whom they face on Saturday.
Juventus are also through to the semifinals of the Coppa Italia and the knockout stage of the Champions League, where they will meet Bayern Munich in the round of 16. Should Allegri's men progress at the expense of Guardiola's Bayern, the 48-year-old Italian's stock will continue to rise, as will the speculation linking him with a move to Stamford Bridge.
Speaking earlier in the week, Allegri's former coach and mentor Giovanni Galeone indicated his protege, whom he believes to be one of the best five coaches in the world, "would even walk" to London "because the offer from Chelsea is truly fantastic." Allegri swiftly countered Galeone's claims, stating: "There's nothing to it. I cannot either confirm or deny something that doesn't exist."
In the midst of all this rumour and supposition, interim Blues boss Guus Hiddink is endeavouring to salvage something from Chelsea's tumultuous campaign. At the start of his temporary tenure, Hiddink hadn't ruled out a top-four finish, but two wins and six draws later his charges are marooned in midtable 17 points adrift of Man City, who currently occupy fourth position and the final Champions League slot.
Competing in Europe's elite competition would make the Chelsea job an altogether more attractive proposition for Allegri, or indeed any other manager being linked with the vacancy at Stamford Bridge. It would also make the task of retaining and attracting world-class players to the club significantly easier.
Realistically, the only way Chelsea will be competing in the Champions League next season is if they win it this time around. Anything is possible, as the London club proved when beating Bayern in their own backyard in 2012, but that was an altogether different Chelsea side studded with serial winners such as Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Petr Cech. It was a team founded on dressing room unity and steadfast belief.
Shorn of these legends, despite veteran warhorse skipper John Terry still being around to galvanise the Stamford Bridge dressing room, Hiddink's chances of replicating the feat of 2012 look slim. The Dutchman's best bet of silverware comes from winning the FA Cup, a trophy he won with Chelsea in 2009. With trophy comes a berth in the Europa League, a competition whose overworked early stages are generally viewed as a hindrance rather than something to aspire to.
When making his next appointment, owner Roman Abramovich will demand almost immediate success with Champions League qualification the bare minimum benchmark for job retention. Given the shifting landscape of power in the Premier League -- with Man City under Guardiola looking omnipotent and the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United with their new stadia snapping at the heels of the usual suspects, not forgetting Liverpool -- the Herculean task of rebuilding Chelsea coupled with the intense pressure and expectation that goes with the job could prove beyond difficult.
There are plenty of Chelsea supporters who subscribe to the theory that Guardiola didn't want the grief that comes with the territory of being the manager at Stamford Bridge, but who could really blame the Spaniard if that was part of his decision-making process? Notwithstanding the king's ransom on offer, it has to be a serious consideration of all the men viewed to as candidates for the role. It's a crazy situation brought about by the Russian's notorious impatience, and while the Chelsea owner has been the architect-in-chief of the Blues' myriad successes in recent years, he has also created a rod for his own back that is at the root of the club's current problems.
Whatever transpires, one thing's for certain: if Allegri is finally appointed Chelsea manager, the bookmakers who currently mark him down as favourite for the job will, before his new charges have kicked a competitive ball for him, rub their hands together with glee and open a new market for the length of time that elapses before Abramovich sacks him.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @gate17marco