Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chelsea continues to be a hotbed for speculation, intrigue and hypotheses. Having been in a state of flux since the end of the season (with Antonio Conte’s long-awaited departure still yet to be sanctioned), the club have been linked with a number of possible replacements. Some more suitable than others.
As had been reported for a while, it appeared Maurizio Sarri was their primary target. However, with talks supposedly breaking down thanks to the various derogatory comments that have clouded the former banker’s recent past, it seems they’ve moved on.
The man they are now courting looks to be Laurent Blanc. Laurent Blanc. Sacre Blue…
Don’t get me wrong, Blanc has had a glittering career – both as a World Cup winning player and Ligue 1 ruling manager. All in all he won nine trophies in his playing days, with time spent at Barcelona, Inter, Napoli and Manchester United. As a manager, he has gone one better, collecting 10 in his nine years of management so far.
Those nine years range from 2007 to 2016, because he is yet to re-enter the game following his sacking from Paris Saint-Germain. A gifted defender, the 52-year-old initially took to management like a duck to water, guiding Bordeaux to a second placed finish in his first season, before completing an unlikely domestic double in his second. In the same year as winning Ligue 1 and Le Coupe, he lead Marouane Chamakh and co to the Champions League quarter-finals.
This success garnered him an opportunity to replace Raymond Domenech as overseer of the madhouse that was the French national team in 2010. In charge of a team engulfed in chaos and controversy, the scorer of that infamous Golden Goal in ’98 steadied the ship to a certain extent – although was still not completely absent from the kind of contention that plagued his predecessor.
His proceeding tenure at PSG, while statistically impressive and silverware laden, showed his inhibitions as a top level tactician. Upon replacing Carlo Ancelotti, meastro of all things man management, Blanc was criticised for an inability to keep egos in check – a prerequisite for any big team – as well as persisting with a style that lacked verve and panache. He also seemed unable to change a game if it wasn’t going to plan.
Of course, all this would’ve been by the by had he succeeded in Europe. But he didn’t. Despite the continuous fountain of cash that funneled through his fingers in Paris, he failed to make it past the stage he reached with Bordeaux in 2010. Worse still, more often than not his bogey teams were those of an English disposition. In two out of the three years it was Chelsea and Manchester City who curtailed their progress.
Now, aside from his Champions League travails – which of course won’t be a factor in 2018/19 for the Blues – that appears a fairly substantial CV. Certainly enough to place him in the conversation for high profile jobs. So why, in the years since his last employment, has he been linked with the Australia and USA national team jobs, and little else. Clearly there is a reticence from the footballing community to place their trust in him.
This unofficial sabbatical (subsidised by his sizeable severance package from Paris) has sparked further issues, because if you think a week is a long time in politics, try two years in football for size. Since his unceremonious ousting from the French capital, the parameters for top clubs have completely changed.
The aesthetically pleasing styles of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino have ushered in a new age in English football. This high pressing, fluent passing, counter attack wielding trio – who occupied three of the four Champions League places from 2017/18 – has put pressure on the other top sides to deliver similarly scintillating football. Just ask Jose Mourinho… or maybe don’t.
Either way, with the Chelsea board’s fist tightening further and further every day, alongside the increasingly present possibility of an Abramovich plug pull, the future of the club is hazy at best. With that in mind, the least the fans deserve is an entertaining fall from grace, if the worst does materialise.
In many ways, Blanc is the archetypal Chelsea manager of yesteryear. And while this style has worked in the past, Antonio Conte’s two contrasting years in charge showed the limitations of the current system – it relies on sufficient cash flow and player turnover.
That is why Maurizio Sarri, despite the controversy, was the perfect man to guide the club forward. As boss of Empoli and Napoli, Sarri not only adapted to life on a budget, he reveled in it, embracing the buzz of organically improving a player under his own watch.
In choosing the Frenchman, Chelsea would be selecting a man who was replaced by Arsenal’s incumbent manager. Even more damaging, there would be a real possibility of West Ham United possessing a better manager. No one wants that.
As naive as it sounds, the West London side need a Head Coach (if that is all he can be) who is at least capable of leading a genuine project, even if he at the end of the day he isn’t permitted to do so. Blanc is not a project man, nor does he have the tactical nous to compete with his elite counterparts in the Premier League.
As painful as it is to say, the model Chelsea should be following right now is that of Spurs; a focus on youth and stringency under a principled and exciting manager. That would’ve been Sarri in a nutshell, but there are still options out there – Julian Nagelsmann springs to mind, hell, even Marcelo Bielsa is available. Just don’t let it be Blanc… and don’t even get me started on Luis Enrique.