Chelsea must consider option of extending Guus Hiddink
Ever since Chelsea sacked Jose Mourinho a little over two months, a week does not pass without a new man being installed as favourite to take over the managerial reins at Stamford Bridge.
Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich), Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid), Massimiliano Allegri (Juventus), Jorge Sampaoli (ex-Chile), current interim boss Guus Hiddink, Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City) and Antonio Conte (Italy) have all seen their prices ebb and flow over time with the bookies, with Conte named as the latest favourite to succeed Mourinho on a full-time basis.
Reports coming out of Italy on Tuesday suggest that the 46-year old Azzurri coach whose current contract expires at the end of Euro 2016 has agreed to a deal in principle with Chelsea to become their new manager, although Blues owner Roman Abramovich has yet to make a final decision on the appointment.
Conte's CV is certainly impressive. Having won five Serie A titles, plus the Champions League and UEFA Cup as a player with Juventus, the former midfielder went on to manage the Italian giants to three consecutive Scudettos before succeeding Cesare Prandelli as national team boss in August 2014.
On paper, Conte's feats as both player and manager put him ahead of countryman Allegri and the much-touted Simeone in the experience stakes -- although he shares a common shortcoming with his rivals in having a questionable command of the English language.
Whether or not Conte has the skill-sets to deal with the unique trials and tribulations that come with managing in the Premier League, and perhaps more importantly, keeping on the right side of the ever impatient Abramovich is open to conjecture. Right now, the Russian should be well aware that the next manager he appoints has to hit the ground running. As a bare minimum he must ensure that Chelsea are challenging for the domestic title and comfortably settled in a Champions League qualification berth.
It's a huge challenge. With Chelsea set to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of next season while their ancestral home is razed to the ground and rebuilt at a cost of circa £500 million, continuity of success is essential if Abramovich is to maintain the momentum build up since he bought the club in 2003.
Competition in the Premier League will be fiercer than ever. With Guardiola already announced as the next Manchester City manager, Mourinho primed to replace Louis van Gaal at Manchester United, Mauricio Pochettino working wonders at Tottenham Hotspur, Jurgen Klopp threatening to do the same with Liverpool and Arsene Wenger always keeping Arsenal in the mix, there's no guarantee that the next Chelsea manager will be successful. Factor in a wildcard like Leicester City and the task is made to look even more difficult.
If Abramovich is having a few sleepless nights contemplating who he hires next, that's understandable, though few will sympathise with a man who has been architect of his own insomnia.
There is of course a blindingly obvious solution to the Chelsea owner's dilemma which is being widely talked about by Blues supporters, and that is to persuade Hiddink to stay on for at least another year. The affable Dutchman may turn 70 years old in November, but his enthusiasm for football appears unsullied by age. Hiddink and Abramovich clearly enjoy a cordial working relationship and Chelsea's players have responded incredibly well to the fatherly style of management now very much in evidence.
Speaking after Chelsea thrashed Manchester City 5-1 to reach the quarterfinals of the FA Cup, midielder John Obi Mikel, who has seen his fortunes at Stamford Bridge transformed since Hiddink replaced Mourinho, stated that he wanted the Dutchman to be given the job on a permanent basis.
Mikel went further, saying that 98 or 99 percent of the players also want Hiddink to stay, while underlining the rediscovered feeling of positivity in the dressing room by joking about Diego Costa being in a good mood. Costa is certainly scoring goals for fun again, and the sullen scowl Costa sported during the first half of this turbulent campaign has been replaced with a smile.
Chelsea supporters, too, have been encouraged by the spirited nature of recent performances. Hiddink, the known quantity, would be a popular choice with many fans who believe that his appointment via a one-year contract extension would buy Abramovich more time to ensure he found the right man to take the role on a longer term basis.
Mark Worrall is one of ESPN FC's Chelsea bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.