Ever since Guus Hiddink announced that his second spell at Chelsea would only last until the end of the season there has been speculation about the identity of the next Chelsea manager. Up until very recently, that speculation included Pep Guardiola, who had announced his imminent departure from Bayern Munich, but has since confirmed that he will be joining Manchester City – which reduces Chelsea’s list of potential candidates by one. With the current dearth of top level managerial talent that’s available, it was always likely that Chelsea’s next candidate would be slightly less (in)famous than the likes of Mourinho or Hiddink, and it appears as though that hunch may have been proven correct as chatter has begun to proliferate about an announcement in the next two weeks.
The manager that’s being tipped to take over from Hiddink is none other than the Italian Antonio Conte, former manger at Juventus, preceding Massimiliano Allegri – and current manager of the Italian national team. The 46 year old has over a decade of managerial experience under his belt and all his previous positions were at Italian clubs. If he is appointed, it will mark his first position beyond the shores of his country of origin.
While his former clubs may not boast illustrious Champions League winners, he took Juventus to three successive Serie A titles in his three year stay at the Turin-based giants, gaining fame and plaudits for his tactical versatility. Most managers are known for having a favoured formation that they adhere to religiously, but Conte is well known for adapting his teams’ formations depending on what he deems the best option depending on any given circumstances. Whether he changes formation depending on the setup he expects from his opposition or the players available in his squad, he’s become renowned for adapting his team successfully and frequently. His preoccupation with tactical perfection has earned him comparisons to none other than José Mourinho, which may excite or frighten Chelsea fans in equal measure.
Irrespective of who takes over at Chelsea, there are likely to be rampant changes to the squad, and Conte’s potential appointment may encourage players not convinced of their standing at the club to seek moves to potentially greener pastures.
Hiddink is known for his affable nature and his ability to galvanize a squad without rocking the boat too much, something that Conte is not necessarily going to perpetuate. If he is appointed, the team will trade a jovial and well-loved stalwart for an exuberant disciplinarian likely to shake things up. Similar to managers such as Jurgen Klopp, who only have experience managing in a single league, it is likely that Conte will require some time to settle in order to acclimatise to the league as well as integrate new signings into his squad. Chelsea fans expecting an instant return to title contention may need to exercise a bit of patience; Conte has a history of drawing good performances from what might be sub-optimal squads but he’s coming from a league where there are very few legitimate competitors for the title. A position in the Premier League is going to test any newcomer due to its recently competitive nature.
With that being said, there are reasons for optimism, most notably the Italian’s penchant for adapting his formation depending on the environment. If any of the top European managers can balance good performances with a changing and inconsistent squad, Conte is likely to be that manager. Of the available managers in the European leagues Conte is likely to be the safest bet, and Chelsea have a precedent for giving an opportunity to young, talented managers and being rewarded with marked success.
If the announcement is made within the next fortnight Conte will be the second high-level managerial confirmation after Guardiola. With Louis van Gaal’s second season at Old Trafford failing to gain momentum and José Mourinho still without a job, could we be getting a third soon?
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