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By ESPN Staff

Contenders queue up to replace Grant at Blues

A host of names have already been linked with the Chelsea manager's job even though Avram Grant was not sacked until Saturday.

Grant's tenure at Stamford Bridge was always viewed as a stop-gap measure even though the club consistently denied he would be leaving.

But the attention now switches to those men most likely to replace the 52-year-old Israeli and the first name in the frame is Frank Rijkaard. He was linked with the job as soon as previous boss Jose Mourinho was axed last September.

Rijkaard has just been released by Barcelona after failing to win a trophy for the Spaniards in the last two seasons.

He is a friend of Frank Arnesen, who controls the club's scouting network, and has worked with assistant coach Henk ten Cate at the Nou Camp.

But Rijkaard has no Premier League experience and there have been recent concerns over his health as well as personal issues.

Dutchman Guus Hiddink is another favoured contender. Like Grant, he is a close friend of the club's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich and regarded as the world's best tactician.

Hiddink has consistently denied being interested in the Chelsea job but has as yet, somewhat significantly, not signed a new deal with the Russian Federation.

Abramovich is currently paying his salary to manage Russia and while there is no doubting his pedigree, he has not been involved in club football for some time.

Hiddink has more recently been associated with the international game with spells in South Korea and Australia before taking on the Russian job.

Sven-Goran Eriksson is understood to have rejected the job on two previous occasions and was infamously caught out secretly meeting the club's chief executive Peter Kenyon on one occasion.

His future at Manchester City is unclear and, like Hiddink, he boasts a fine record at club and international level.

But Chelsea fans are unlikely to welcome the Swede and that may dampen the club's willingness to pursue him. Then, of course, there is the most unlikely prospect of the return of fan's favourite Mourinho.

The 'Special One' was axed last September and replaced by the luckless Grant. Mourinho went after Chelsea's first Champions League game against a weak Rosenborg side ended in a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho's relationship with the board, and Abramovich in particular, had deteriorated so much that both sides opted to call it a day.

Mourinho has been out of a job ever since but is favourite to join Inter Milan in the summer even though his relationship with Chelsea's Russian owner has been rebuilt in the last two months.

But his style of football was part of the reason for the severance in the first place and he would find it difficult to adopt another, more attacking approach.

But at a club that opted to replace him with a 52-year-old Israeli, who had never managed in England before and was a virtual unknown outside his own country, anything is possible. Even the return of the 'Special One'.

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