KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— Many uncertainties hang over Chelsea, exacerbated by their failure to defeat London rivals Tottenham on Saturday and thus narrow the gap between themselves, in fifth place, and the likely Champions League ‘four.’
Can they defy football logic and finish fourth? Can they justify their surprising Champions League quarter-final presence and master Benfica? How long will Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard remain at Stamford Bridge? Will Fernando Torres ever score a league goal again? And then, most important of all, who will be the next manager?
If the task awaiting Andre Villas-Boas was one which ultimately too much for even this outstanding, up-and-coming manager who knows the English game, how much greater the task next season.
The likelihood, as caretaker Roberto Di Matteo acknowleged after the 0-0 draw with Spurs, is that Chelsea will not be in the Champions League next season. Hence their attraction as a destination for one of the world’s leading managers, and for the world’s leading players when it comes to transfer dealng, will be distinctly reduced.
Roman Abramovich, the billionaire Russian oligarch whose impatience has contributed to much of the instability, is aware that only the best will do. He also has the funds to outbid anyone else – except, of course, Manchester City but they are perfectly happy with Roberto Mancini.
Pep Guardiola and ex-Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho are generally acknowledged as No1 and No2 in the world through the current status of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Neither man appears fully committed to remaining in place next season. Abramovich is understood to have initiated inquiries in both directions.
But would either man want to be absent, personally, from the Champions League next season?
The demands and expectations of Guardiola and Mourinho make Option No3 perhaps more realistic. This is Laurent Blanc, current manager of France, who is unlikely to remain with Les Bleus beyond Euro 2012 because of a fractured working relationship with FFF president Noel Le Graet.
There is another, financial, advantage. Signing then sacking Villas-Boas and predecessor Carlo Ancelotti cost Chelsea more than £30m. Blanc, who guided Bordeaux to the French league title before succeeding Raymond Domenech after the 2010 World Cup, would be contract-free.
Beyond Blanc Chelsea may have to lower their sights with Everton’s David Moyes, Zenit’s Luciano Spalletti and ex-Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez a sort of ‘Europa League’ of possible targets.
That might be appropriate since the immediate future looks very much like being played out in Europe’s No2 competition next term. Di Matteo said: “To make up the gap on Tottenham, we would have to win all of the games we have left – and it’s going to be difficult.”
In fact, Chelsea were fortunate to take even a point off Spurs. Juan Mata hit a post with a free kick but, at the other end, Rafael Van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor missed clear openings and Gareth Bale hit the bar.
Chelsea do have one other – even more unlikely – option in the bid to displace Tottenham: winning the Champions League. In that case Chelsea would take England’s last slot next term and Tottenham, even if they finish fourth, would drop into the Europa League instead.
It would certainly ease Abramovich’s task in attracting the biggest names.
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