Much speculation has been thrown around regarding who will be the next brave/naive soul to take up football's poisoned chalice - the position of Chelsea manager.
As far as I'm concerned, WHEN Benitez leaves at the end of this season, Chelsea have four options in terms of the type of manager they go with. In each category, there are two or three managers that would be viable options. Essentially, the club must decide the type of manager they want, and then they can look at the options in that category.
Option 1: An experienced, proven manager (a la Ancelotti, Scolari.)
The safe option. These bosses would have the best chance of convincing Mr. Abramovich that they could bring trophies to the club, and would most likely be the difference between Chelsea attracting major signings and not (as big players will be keen to play under them). Main contenders include...
David Moyes: His contract at Everton finishes in the summer and he has consistently deferred renewal talks. He's undoubtedly a fine manager who has done a wonderful job at Everton with a tight budget. Who knows what he could do with the budget that Chelsea could offer him.
Manuel Pellegrini: While Malaga spiral into the financial abyss, Pellegrini has kept them near the top of the Spanish league and taken them to the Champions League quarter finals - with some help from star man Isco. The Malaga squad is certainly not of a CL quarter final calibre, and with the club's European ban coming into effect next season, Pellegrini might feel it's time to take up a new challenge.
Option 2: An inexperienced, but talented young manager (a la Mourinho, Villas-Boas.)
The risky option. God knows it worked with Mourinho, but god knows it didn't with AVB. Part of the risk involves the price - usually a hefty compensation fee to their current club. This isn't necessarily an issue for a club like Chelsea, but it's something to consider nonetheless. Main contenders include...
Michael Laudrup: My first choice outright before he signed a new contract at Swansea. He already employs the right system and style of play there that Chelsea have been trying to perfect over the last year or so, and his status as a player is such that respect from the (often troublesome) players would not be an issue. That contract may be the killer blow though, unfortunately.
Jurgen Klopp: Germany is the most improved league in Europe right now and Klopp is the league's outstanding manager. He's a built a squad by nurturing some of Germany's finest young talents (Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan, to name but a few) and Chelsea may feel that, given their own young talents, he may be the perfect appointment to nurture the likes of Eden Hazard, Oscar, and the array of loanees the club has.
Option 3: A popular, likeable ex-player (a la Di Matteo, Vialli.)
The fan-pleasing option. It might be just what is needed to appease the fans after the reign of the widely-disliked Benitez. However, inexperience and a lack of real quality may result in an ending similar to that of RDM. The benefit of a positive atmosphere at the Bridge might just make it a worthwhile option though. Main contenders include...
Gianfranco Zola: The ultimate in terms of popularity, Zola has had a taste of Premier League management before with West Ham and, now in charge of Watford, may feel the step up to Chelsea would be the right call. Zola's talent as a manager is a bit uncertain, however, with significant doubt as to whether he is capable of handling a top team.
Gustavo Poyet: Gus has publicly declared his aim to one day become Chelsea manager, and with his Brighton team challenging for promotion to the Premier League, he is clearly showing his managerial talents. However, with no top flight experience, the Chelsea board may feel this is simply too risky an appointment at this stage of Poyet's career (give it another 5-10 years, eh Gus?)
Option 4: Mourinho.
The best option. He's in a league of his own, as far as I'm concerned, and would be the firm favourite amongst the majority of Blues fans. Would he leave Madrid without the Champions League? Would he be willing to work with Abramovich again? Would he be able to replicate the success he enjoyed at Chelsea in his first spell? If there's any chance that all these questions can be satisfied, then I say make it happen. He is the Special One, after all.
Let me know who your choice would be in the comments, and cheers for reading.