LONDON – So the Ordinary One has gone, a decent man for whom the weight of pressure and expectation was simply too great.
Avram Grant tried his utmost to make a success of his eight-month stint at Chelsea, but his reserved personality meant he would never be embraced as the Special One, like his charismatic predecessor Jose Mourinho.
Grant's sacking on Saturday after Chelsea's Champions League final defeat and a second-place finish in the English Premier League opens the door for a high-profile appointment. Britain's Sunday newspapers were full of speculation about who would be handed the keys to owner Roman Abramovich's cash vault, and the topic will dominate discussion among Premier League fans until the final decision is made.
Let's take a look at the leading candidates:
The Dutchman is the bookies' favorite and was the first name linked with the job when Grant was dismissed. Rijkaard was released from his post at Barcelona after the Catalan club trophy cabinet remained empty for the second straight campaign. However, he is still respected as one of the world's top club coaches and has a big enough personality to shoulder the inevitable pressure that comes hand in hand with the Chelsea job. Odds: 3 to 1.
Hiddink would be an intriguing choice. He has proven himself as an outstanding coach across the globe, and he is currently in charge of the Russian national team – where his wages are actually paid by the patriotic Abramovich. The two men are close friends and Hiddink has yet to agree to terms on a new Russian contract. He has never managed in the Premier League but has the contacts and expertise to make a success of the position. Odds: 5 to 1.
Mancini looks certain to part company with Inter Milan this summer and would be a legitimate candidate for this role. However, his occasionally fractured relationship with the media does not necessarily bode well for him. (Grant found the press' suspicion towards him hard to handle.) Mancini's best chance may be in either Rijkaard or Hiddink ruling themselves out. Odds: 7 to 1.
Abramovich is a longtime admirer of Eriksson and the Swede is believed to have rejected the job on two previous occasions. He was pictured meeting Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon while still in charge of England and is likely to be a free agent soon – once Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra bombs him out. Chelsea supporters would not be in favor of his appointment, though, and Abramovich does not want to alienate his fan base so soon after appointing the unpopular Grant. Odds: 7 to 1.
Hughes is the only realistic British contender, having turned Blackburn Rovers into one of the most solid teams behind the Premiership's Big Four. Hughes also has international experience, having led Wales to the brink of the Euro 2004 European Championship finals, and he played for Chelsea towards the end of his career. A lack of Champions League know-how could count against him, however, and he may also have an eye on the Manchester United job once Sir Alex Ferguson eventually retires. Odds: 12 to 1.
When the Special One stormed out of Stamford Bridge following his axing last September, his relationship with Abramovich was in tatters. However, the pair appears to have reconciled since, with the Russian having bought Mourinho a $4 million limited edition Ferrari earlier this year as a gift. If Mourinho did return to Chelsea, it would be an extraordinary turn of events, but nothing about the man should surprise us any longer. He appeared to rule himself out on Sunday and it seems as if he will instead join Inter, but Chelsea fans will still hold out hope until the moment he signs his contract in Italy. Odds: 22 to 1.