It is hard to knock the work that Guus Hiddink has done in his second stint in charge of Chelsea. The experienced Dutchman’s relaxed attitude and effortless charisma has bound together a squad that looked in real danger of fracturing beyond repair.
The Champions League elimination at the hands to PSG was disappointing, yet far from surprising considering how strong the French Champions currently are and how makeshift the Blues backline was. More dispiriting was the FA Cup loss to Everton, where everyone’s favourite pantomime villain; Diego Costa, finally received his first red card in English football.
It seems clear that Hiddink will leave at the end of the season, and if reports are to be believed the Chelsea hierarchy targeted Atletico Madrid’s combustible gaffer Diego Simeone as the man to get the Blues back to the summit of English football.
The Argentine manager is, however, happy in the Spanish capital, he has almost full autonomy and has the finances on offer to mould the club in his image and with Atletico set to move into a new stadium in the 16/17 season it is understood that Simeone wishes to remain as the figurehead leading his men into a new era.
With their number one target unattainable Chelsea have cast their gaze upon a man they consider to come from a similar stock; Antonio Conte. The current Italy gaffer has built up a reputation as a man with a robotic relentlessness in search of victory. During his spell as the Juventus manager he was seen as the physical manifestation of the club’s motto “winning isn’t important, it is the only thing that counts.”
Next season is shaping up to be the most hotly contested in history; Manchester City will have Guardiola, Liverpool will have Klopp, Arsenal the experienced Wenger, Manchester United are expected to have Mourinho and Spurs have one of the finest young managers in Europe in Mauricio Pochettino.
Combine this with a mammoth TV deal that looks like it will narrow the gulf between the Premier League’s elite and the chasing pack and it may turn the Premier League into a 38 game war of attrition. If this is indeed the way thing shape up, Conte and his abrasive mind-set will not only be ideal, it will be a necessity to keep the Stamford Bridge side at the sharp end of the League.
The steely-eyed Conte, who has a striking resemblance to Jonny Tapia – the villain in Bad Boys 2, is currently months into learning English and seems inevitable that we will see him prowling across technical areas up and down the country.
Liverpool a couple of years ago and Leicester this season have shown how quickly a well drilled side can surge up the table while other clubs are distracted with European football.
If Chelsea’s players, who looked all too ready to down tools under Mourinho, can get on board and absorb Conte’s ideas, then there is no real limit to what the Blues can achieve.