10 managers in 12 years: Roman Abramovich’s managerial merry-go-round

Despite suffering a terrible start to the season, which sees Chelsea sitting dangerously close to the relegation zone at the midway point of the 2015/16 season, the announcement that Jose Mourinho had been given the boot (or ‘left my mutual agreement’, according to the club) still managed to send shock-waves through the football community.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, given that The Blues had won just 4 of their first 16 matches, but most believed that Mourinho’s past successes would earn him enough time to turn the season around, especially given that the decision may cost the club upwards of £40 million in compensation due to the three year contract extension that was signed at the start of the season.

The sacking has raised further suspicions of potential betrayal within the Chelsea camp, with players such as Eden Hazard, Nemanja Matic, Cesc Fabregas, Diego Costa and even the forever faithful captain John Terry singled out as possible culprits in recent weeks. It would hardly be a surprise – such displays of player power have frequented Stamford Bridge since the arrival of Roman Abramovich. The Russian owner strives for the best, and he has proved over the years that he is more than happy to sling a manager on the scrapheap if it keeps his golden boys happy.

Chelsea fans were beginning to believe that the days of the club’s managerial merry-go-round were finally over, but the sacking means that Abramovich will now be looking for a new manager for the 10th time in 12 years.

Although, famed-Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, who has emerged as a target for the club, has revealed that it will take a lot of hard-work for Chelsea to convince a top manager that taking the reigns at Stamford Bridge is a good move, and as the past shows, it probably isn’t.

Claudio Ranieri, September 2000 – May 2004

Ranieri was brought in a good few years before Abramovich would take over as the club’s manager. His previous spell had come at Atletico Madrid, whose season had ended with relegation. His first few years at the club weren’t bad – he brought in Frank Lampard and promoted John Terry from the academy – but results were largely inconsistent.

When Abramovich arrived in June 2003, rumours began to circulate about Ranieri’s future, due to secret (or not so secret) meetings between the Russian billionaire and then-England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. Although, the Italian boss was given the chance, as well as hundreds of millions of pounds, to prove himself.

Claude Makélélé, Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole, Glen Johnson, Scott Parker, Geremi, Hernán Crespo, Juan Sebastián Verón and Adrian Mutu were all brought in for a combined total of £117 million. Chelsea were tipped for the top, and despite finishing in second place, their best finish since the 1954/55 title winning season, Ranieri was given the boot as the season drew to an end.

Jose Mourinho, June 2004 – September 2007

Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one,” Jose Mourinho told the baying crowd as he was unveiled as the new Chelsea boss.

Mourinho had caught Abramovich’s attention by winning the Champions League with Porto the season prior, and while he was unable to complete such a feat with The Blues, he did bring them their first league title in 50 years.

The spending continued under Mourinho, with big names such as Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho, Petr Cech and Arjen Robben added to the squad that summer. The club upped their game from the previous season, clinching the League Cup and Premier League double, while also reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Mourinho retained the Premier League title the following season, but the relationship between the manager and the owner began to deteriorate with the signing of big-money goalscorer Andriy Shevchenko. It was the owner who had insisted on making the purchase, and when the Ukrainian striker began to struggle, Mourinho refused to play him despite his boss’ demands. Chelsea finished the season with the League Cup and FA Cup, but that summer would see Mourinho’s patience pushed to breaking point.

Jose Mourinho became the most successful manager in Chelsea's history.
Jose Mourinho became the most successful manager in Chelsea’s history.

Abramovich appear to be growing frustrated with the Portuguese boss, and Avram Grant was appointed as Director of Football, which further reduced the control that Mourinho had over the day-to-day running of the club.

Nobody really knows what exactly led to Mourinho leaving the club ‘by mutual consent’ in September 2007, but despite the difficult end, the Special One departed as the most successful manager in the club’s history, having won six trophies in just three seasons.

Avram Grant, September 2007 – May 2008

Unsurprisingly, soon after Mourinho’s departure, it was announced that Grant would be stepping up into the manager role. The Israeli boss didn’t land the job on merit, but because he was a close friend of Abramovich. In fact, he didn’t even have all of the coaching badges required to lead the club, but thanks to a qualification that he had received in Israel, UEFA granted him permission to continue on at Chelsea.

Despite facing backlash from the Chelsea crowd, who were still getting over the devastating loss of Jose Mourinho, Grant did unbelievably well for a man with a lack of top-level experience. Finishing second in the Premier League, he also guided The Blues to their best ever Champions League finish, as they progressed to the final for the first time.

The 2008 Champions League final is memorable for that John Terry slip which cost Chelsea the trophy, as well as Grant his job. Having failed to secure a trophy, Grant’s contract was terminated just three days later.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, July 2008 – February 2009

After winning the 2002 World Cup and leading Portugal to the 2006 World Cup semi-finals, Scolari was brought in soon after the 2008 European Championship. However, his reign would be a short one.

Chelsea started the 2008/09 season well, losing just one of their first 13 matches to propel them to the top of the table. However, things quickly began to unravel. A run of just four wins in 12 games saw Scolari sacked in early February, with the side in danger of dropping out of the top four.

Guus Hiddink, February 2009 – May 2009

Soon after Scolari’s sacking it was announced that Guus Hiddink would take control of Chelsea on an interim basis until the end of the season, while also continuing in his role as boss of the Russian national team.

The Dutchman provided an instant turn-around as Chelsea went on to win 11 of their remaining 13 Premier League games under him, with the only loss coming in a narrow 1-0 defeat away to Tottenham Hotspur. Likewise, Hiddink also took the club to within seconds of reaching the Champions League final for two consecutive seasons, only for eventual winners Barcelona to clinch a winning goal in the 93rd minute.

Hiddink’s final game came in the FA Cup final, in which Chelsea beat Everton 2-1 to claim the cup. The Blues called on Abramovich to sign him up on a permanent basis, but the Dutchman insisted on returning to the Russia post. As a result, he left with a win ratio of 73% – higher than any other manager in the club’s history.

Guus Hiddink celebrates Chelsea's FA Cup victory.
Guus Hiddink celebrates Chelsea’s FA Cup victory.

Carlo Ancelotti, July 2009 – May 2011

Next up to bat was AC Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti, who announced that he would be departing the Serie A giants after eight years at the helm. By this point, Abramovich’s desire to win the Champions League was becoming increasingly clear, and Ancelotti was just the man to do so, having already won it on two occasions.

Ancelotti was an immediate success, beating Manchester United in the Community Shield to put the club on the right track for the season ahead. The club went from strength to strength in the league, eventually winning by a single point more than second placed United. The club also set the record for the most goals scored in a single Premier League season with 103 goals, before rounding up the 2009/10 season with victory in the FA Cup.

His second season at Stamford Bridge was less successful, as Chelsea failed to claim a trophy. The lacklustre performances of £50 million man Fernando Torres, Abramovich’s latest star signing, didn’t help to convince the Russian owner that Ancelotti was the man to lead the club forward, and just two hours after Chelsea’s final league game, a 1-0 defeat to Everton, the Italian boss was thrown out of the hot-seat.

André Villas-Boas, June 2011 – March 2012

The decision to sack Ancelotti just a year after he had led the club to their first domestic double was said to have put many top managers off of taking the Chelsea job. Although, the baby-faced Villas-Boas, who had just led Porto to a treble by winning the Primeira Liga, Portuguese Cup and Europa League, aged just 33, was on hand to step up.

Dubbed the ‘new Mourinho’, Villas-Boas oversaw a flawless pre-season at his new club, although start to life in the Premier League was far from perfect. After six wins in his first eight matches, Chelsea went on to lose back-to-back London derbies against QPR and Arsenal. Results picked up, but the ‘winter blues’ that Chelsea seem to be cursed with hit hard, with the club drawing three consecutive games, before losing to Aston Villa entering the new year.

Three wins, three draws and two defeats saw Chelsea drop out of the top four entering March, and a 3-1 defeat to Napoli left the club on the brink of an early Champions League exit. Unsurprisingly, it was announced that Villas-Boas would be leaving the club after just nine months at the helm.

Roberto Di Matteo, March 2012 – November 2012

Former Blues midfielder, and assistant manager under Villas-Boas, Di Matteo was announced as the caretaker manager until the club could find a suitable replacement at the end of the season.

The Italian’s first real test came in the Champions League, where he was tasked with overturning the defeat suffered against Napoli, which he did with an unbelievable 4-1 win. Chelsea’s inconsistent form continued in the league, and Di Matteo appeared to turn his attention solely to the Champions League.

Wins over Benfica, Barcelona and Bayern Munich saw Chelsea lift Europe’s biggest prize for the first time in their history, which saw fan favourite Di Matteo awarded the job on a permanent basis. The club eventually finished sixth in the league, but their Champions League win saw them qualify for the following year’s tournament in place of fourth placed Tottenham.

Di Matteo led Chelsea to their first ever Champions League trophy.
Di Matteo led Chelsea to their first ever Champions League trophy.

The club’s form picked up in time for the 2012/13 campaign, as they remained unbeaten in their first eight Premier League matches. Although, a run of seven games without a win followed. Midway through this slump, Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages, and Di Matteo was relieved of his duties, having failed to have the same effect on the players as he had done the season prior.

Rafael Benítez, November 2012 – May 2013

Much to the dismay of the Chelsea crowd, former-Liverpool boss Benitez was brought in to plug the gap until the end of the season. The Spanish boss was hounded for previous comments that he had made about the club and was booed throughout his first game in charge, a 0-0 draw with Manchester City.

Chelsea’s season certainly improved, with the club eventually finishing in third place, although the crowd refused to take to their new man. Benitez openly criticised the ‘interim’ tag that he had been given by the club, as well as the way he had been received by the club’s fans. Despite clinching the Europa League trophy, to make Chelsea the first club in history to hold both European trophies at the same time, the fans were happy to see the back of him at the end of the season.

Jose Mourinho, June 2013 – December 2015

With Pep Guardiola, who was undoubtedly Abramovich’s favourite to take over, heading to Bayern Munich, the Russian decided to rekindle his relationship with fan favourite Mourinho. The Special One’s re-arrival was greeted positively by the club and the media, with the Portuguese manager beginning his second spell in the Premier League with a ‘Happy One’ speech that reminded the press of exactly what they had been missing.

His first season in charge was spent rebuilding the squad and applying what he described as a ‘small horse’ with the ‘milk’ it needed to grow. The approach worked, as The Blues steam-rolled to the Premier League title a year later – just the second time since since he first departed the club.

This brings us up to the present, with Chelsea struggling in the Premier League and Mourinho on his way out of Stamford Bridge for a second time. Guus Hiddink has once again been announced as the interim manager after a disastrous spell with the Holland national team, but Abramovich will be hoping that he picks up where he left off six years ago, at least until he is able to bring in the latest name on a growing list of managers.

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