Following the inevitable departure of Andre Villas Boas from Stamford Bridge, just where do Chelsea stand?
Consigned to defeat, a step too early?: Andre Villas Boas must be wondering whether he was slightly naive in taking on such a massive project at Chelsea now that it has fallen to pieces and his managerial reputation damaged at such a young age following an incredible reign at Porto. It just shows that the lure of money and power in the game can backfire.
It was an inevitability, imminent in its execution, and finally, Chelsea's managerial scrapheap has another victim. Andre Villas Boas saw his Chelsea side crumble to a 1-0 defeat at the Hawthorns by a well disciplined West Bromwich side under highly experienced manager Roy Hodgson's watchful eye. It signified the end of what was barely the beginning for the young Portuguese manager. A man brought in, who had a project, but expected to see the transition phase go through smoothly before making his mark on the Chelsea side.
The former Porto manager could be described as a "One-Season Wonder" during his time at the Portuguese Champions, but having learnt under Jose Mourinho's wing and been at Stamford Bridge in the "Special One's" era, it was a sufficient enough sign of managerial talent to make Roman Abramovich part with a cool £13.25 million to meet the buy-out clause in Villas-Boas's contract.
Unfortunately, in Chelsea's last 12 games, there has only been 3 wins, a win percentage ratio of 25%. With rumoured discontent in the dressing room from some senior players, it looked consigned to be another sacking and another season without the elusive Champions League or any other form of silverware. Chelsea's inadequate performance in Naples leave them 3-1 down against one of Europe's most under-rated strikeforces of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik.
So now, with a small period of recuperation, where do Chelsea move from here?
Roberto Di Matteo looks set to pick-up the pieces of the immediate aftermath of the departure and take control of the side for the forthcoming return leg of the Champions League tie but reports in the Sunday Mirror are linking Rafa Benitez to a short-term (end of season) deal at the club to try and stabilise the club, whether such rumours are fabricated is unsure.
The most important aspect is that Roman Abramovich takes his time. Perhaps he showed a slight naivety in entrusting a man with limited experience, the same age as some of his players, including Frank Lampard who claimed being left on the bench during many games was "not ideal", and with contrasting philosophies to previous reigns to bring back the 'Holy Grail' that is the Champions League trophy to Chelsea. He looks set to target the Master of Catalonia - Pep Guardiola - who is unavailable until the end of the season but is on rolling one year contracts at Barcelona - meaning Abramovich will not have to pay anything for his services.
Guardiola has won every single accolade he can with a Barcelona team widely regarded as one of the greatest to grace the football field. Assumptions must be made that, in the likelyhood that Real Madrid win La Liga, Guardiola must only see it as the start of the decline of a once invincible team.
This possible desire and appetite for a new challenge may force Guardiola to consider such an offer should it arise. There is the flexibility of the one year contracts at Barcelona which means they are susceptible to these sorts of problems and it could play into Chelsea's hands.
Abramovich undoubtedly has the resources to attract almost any manager on the planet, with the financial side a clear positive of moving to Chelsea as a manager. The Russian owner will back a manager fully in financial terms even if, like Fernando Torres, they turn out to be 'flops'. Yet, Guardiola has the potential man management to bring Torres back into a goal scoring form that has not been seen since the early Liverpool days. Having recently been dropped by his country, Torres needs to find his form to save his international career from being cut short and to consolidate his place domestically.
A potential player cull is another viable option with so many underperformers in the squad. Many of the senior players have been guided towards the exit anyway but with lucrative career-ending contracts lurking in countries desperate to attract top stars it shouldn't be too difficult a task. This was exemplified with a recent move for Nicholas Anelka to a Shanghai based team in China where he is on large pay packets. Players like Didier Drogba, John Terry and John Obi Mikel have been underperforming and Terry has also been involved in a high profile racism scandal. Abramovich needs to be considering a complete restructuring of Chelsea's team or a manager like Guardiola or even the return of their messiah - Mourinho - who has that special aura to make players perform under their guidance.
A return of the glory days?: Could we witness scenes like these in the near future with the potential return of such a charismatic manager to make Chelsea a formidable force in the Premier League once again?
Dare we suggest the return of Mourinho?
Such a charismatic manager has been missed from our shores of late. With rumours of a disapproval of the internal politics blighting Real Madrid and sightings of Mourinho supposedly house hunting in London, the unthinkable could occur and we could witness the return of a managerial legend to the Premier League to add a whole new dimension to the league. He is widely considered as one of the greatest managers of modern times have won domestic titles in three European countries and looks destined to make that four with the impending La Liga title run in as Real Madrid sit seven points ahead with a game in hand. His enigmatic and blunt style is one that players do not question and he is not afraid to make big decisions - just the type of manager that Chelsea need.
It appears that there have been some irreparable divides created in the period of Villas-Boas's control, whether these are patched up following his dismissal and the players gel together under former Chelsea star Roberto Di Matteo, or they continue to play disjointed football until a new manager is appointed is something that will unravel, however, there is no doubt that the press will be overflowing with ideas of potential candidates for the Chelsea job, the only problem is, with such a lethal owner as Abramovich, who since 2003 has hired and fired seven managers, who will want to take such a literal hot-seat with the pressure burning away.
Jose Mourinho is the only candidate that has the experience to warrant the position at the helm of Chelsea. He has always spoken of a return to England and with the rumours of discontent, plus the manager of his old club having just been sacked, there may not be a better opportunity for him to seize.
Whatever the outcome, it will be an eventful number of months both on and off the field as Chelsea fight for Champions League survival and a place in next seasons competition via the Premier League, but there is an undeniable wish from many to see one of the managers of Spain's top two clubs to arrive in Chelsea.