Jim White

Chelsea still a big draw for managers

It is, according to football's Uncle Fester, all over at Stamford Bridge. Interviewed in the Sun this morning, Ray Wilkins suggests that the decision of Pep Guardiola to spurn Chelsea and head for Bavaria means Roman Abramovich will find it now nigh-on-impossible to recruit a decent manager.

Guardiola's refusal is the first indication that the Russian's twitchy impatience with his coaches is becoming problematic. It might be thought he has everything available to attract the top talent from across the globe: more money than Croesus, a budget to die for, a state-of-the-art training facility and a smart London postcode. But clearly now, according to Wilkins, the best would prefer to head elsewhere for a less stressful life.

Even to Bayern, which, although we are these days obliged to genuflect to the Bundesliga as the world's most morally upright sporting competition, is not without a degree of flakiness in its history. Nine managers in the last 16 years is not the mark of a club without a knee-jerk firing habit. Maybe Pep didn't appreciate before he signed on the dotted line that Bayern's managerial turnover is not that dissimilar to Abramovich's. Or maybe he just thought anywhere would be less stressful than life in the medieval fiefdom that is the court of King Roman.

I'm not so sure Wilkins is right, however. Despite the owner's hair trigger habits, to my mind Chelsea remains a hugely attractive managerial post. My suspicion is there are at least a dozen top managers who would cheerfully take up Abramovich's offer. From Roberto Martinez to Michael Laudrup, via Rafa Benitez, I think we can safely suggest his call would be taken.

The truth is, if you are a manager of ambition, Chelsea remains somewhere you would be mad to turn down. You would arrive at a place with a squad that - a defensive midfielder in the Claude Makelele mould apart - has just about everything in place. Imagine being able to work with a midfield three as potent as Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar? Blimey, that is reason on its own to beat a path to Roman's door. If you couldn't win something with that lot to hand it must say something alarming about your abilities.

But also consider this: of the managers who have been through the Chelsea grinder who has seen their reputations diminished by the experience? None of them. Roberto Di Matteo and Carlo Ancelotti, for instance, have both been hugely advanced by their association with the club. Di Matteo arrived at the Bridge with a West Brom-sized cloud on his CV. Nobody remembers that now. All they think of is of a man who did a brilliant job, won the most important trophy in the game, and was then summarily dismissed on the owner's mad whim. They chant his name at the Bridge every game. Had he been there long enough to fail, the regulars might not be getting so agitated at the 16 minute mark.

Similarly Ancelotti left the Bridge with his head held high and his standing enhanced by the experience. Everyone assumed Abramovich was bonkers to get rid of someone who had done precisely what he was recruited to do. No-one in their right mind blamed the manager.

Even Avram Grant left Chelsea with the status of someone who had taken a team close in four competitions. It was only after he had been at West Ham that it became clear an idiot could have led that bunch of players to Wembley and Moscow. And, so the Boleyn faithful would suggest, Grant was that idiot.

The other thing all those managers left with was a current account hugely improved by the experience. One of the things a coach takes on at Chelsea is the knowledge that he will become a rich man the moment it is over. Managers are men of considerable reserves of self-belief and assume when they start a job that they won't fail. But at Chelsea, the severance, paid without demur or need to bring in the lawyers, is some comfort. Abramovich could have bought himself half a team on the money he has squandered in pay-offs. But none of those handed their P45s are complaining.

The question now for the Russian is this: after investing so much of his time and effort on courting Guardiola (the suggestion is he has been offering the world and possibly his wife to the Spaniard in a bid to lure him to the Fulham Road) where does he turn now? Steven Gerrard apart, Abramovich is not used to being refused when he issues an invitation. His assumption has always been that his money can buy him whoever he wants in football. And let's face it he has not been presented with much in the way of evidence to counter that belief. Now, after his encounter with the great Guardiola, he has got to start again.

Thus are Gus Poyet, Gianfranco Zola, Brendan Rodgers - men whose names would not have entered his head as he began his courtship of Guardiola - now in the frame. Across football, from Seville to Swansea, from Wolfsburg to Wigan, you can bet your boots they will be standing by their phones.