Wednesday 21 March 2018

Roman looking to Pep up blues

Guardiola and Mourinho top billionaire's wishlist

Chelsea will step up their efforts to recruit Barcelona's Pep Guardiola or, possibly, their former manager and Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho, after Roman Abramovich personally sacked Andre Villas-Boas yesterday.

Roberto Di Matteo has been put in charge of Chelsea until the end of the season as Abramovich seeks his latest manager, who will be charged with rejuvenating the squad in the way that the Russian finally deemed was beyond Villas-Boas.

Although Villas-Boas has been sacked, just eight months after arriving at Chelsea, it does not mean that Abramovich will reverse his plans to overhaul the playing staff who he also blames for the current underperformance. The future of the likes of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou will be decided in the summer.

It is thought they, and others, could still leave as Chelsea contemplate a radical change with yet another new manager.

At least Villas-Boas was -- unlike his predecessor, Carlo Ancelotti -- afforded a face-to-face meeting with Abramovich who arrived at Chelsea's training ground yesterday morning with his trusted lieutenant and club director Eugene Tenenbaum, and chief executive Ron Gourlay.

Villas-Boas had conducted training, the day after the 1-0 away defeat by West Bromwich Albion, which means Chelsea have won just three of their last 12 league games, and was then called into a meeting with Abramovich, who informed him of his decision.

Abramovich then told the first-team squad that Di Matteo would be the interim manager for the rest of the campaign, although this decision may be reviewed if results don't improve.

That starts with tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round replay away to Birmingham City.

Chelsea also face a desperate fight to finish in the top four and qualify for next season's Champions League.

The fact that Abramovich met Villas-Boas face-to-face is testimony to the regard the Russian billionaire holds him in.

The only other manager he has sacked personally is his friend, Avram Grant, who was called to the owner's home after the 2008 Champions League final.

Claudio Ranieri, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ancelotti and even Mourinho were not afforded that courtesy.

It is understood that Abramovich decided he might have to make a change following the 2-0 away defeat to Everton on February 11, after which discussions took place as to whether Rafael Benítez should be hired.

That intensified further following the 3-1 Champions League defeat away to Napoli.

However, Abramovich only wanted a short-term solution while the former Liverpool manager angled after a longer-term contract.

Benítez is also deeply unpopular with Chelsea fans and although Abramovich was attracted to the Spaniard's disciplined approach, and hoped he could also get the best out of Fernando Torres, he decided against holding formal talks.

It is understood that the Chelsea owner also considered approaching Gianfranco Zola, who remains out of work after being fired by West Ham United two years ago, and there was a discussion between his advisers as to whether he could provide the short-term boost that was needed.

Chelsea also thought of former Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanches Flores.

In the end it was concluded that it would be simpler to put Di Matteo in charge for now and see whether the Chelsea players, some of whom, such as Lampard, have had a tense relationship with Villas-Boas, respond.

Matters were complicated by Guus Hiddink's decision to accept the €10million-a-year net of tax he will earn as coach of the Russian club Anzhi, as he would have provided an ideal short-term solution.

Abramovich had strongly considered hiring Hiddink last summer but concluded then that he would not make the necessary changes to the squad, such as phasing out some of the old guard, to take Chelsea forward.

If Chelsea's fortunes do not improve it is possible that Di Matteo could also be shunted out as Abramovich has made it clear to club officials -- and players -- that he will not countenance failure to secure Champions League football next season.

It will also affect his ability to attract a high-calibre manager, such as Guardiola or Mourinho, to the club.

In a statement on the club's website, Chelsea said: "Unfortunately the results and performances of the team have not been good enough and were showing no signs of improving at a key time in the season.

"The club is still competing in the latter stages of the Uefa Champions League and the FA Cup, as well as challenging for a top-four spot in the Premier League, and we aim to remain as competitive as possible on all fronts. With that in mind, we felt our only option was to make a change this time."

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