Antonio Conte to Chelsea: Guus Hiddink has turned the Blues around but they need to be bold and Italy boss is a better choice for a long-term project

 
Trevor Steven
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Milton Keynes Dons v Chelsea - The Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round
Golden Guus: Hiddink has changed the mood at Chelsea but could he turn them into title winners? (Source: Getty)

I don't think even Guus Hiddink realised how big a job he was taking on when the experienced Dutchman returned for a second stint as caretaker manager of Chelsea in December, following the sacking of Jose Mourinho.

Confidence seemed to be at rock bottom but less than three months later the mood at Stamford Bridge has changed dramatically. Cesc Fabregas looks the player of old and there are signs of recovery in Eden Hazard.

He has done the job asked of him and I’ve no doubt that if he stayed next season he’d have them up near the top of the Premier League, so people may ask why the Blues seem happy to wave goodbye again in May.

Hiddink is a familiar face and would offer continuity, but would he give them an edge? Chelsea exist to challenge for the title; can he do that? Those are the questions club chiefs will have wrestled with.

This summer is shaping up to be a watershed for the English top-flight. Both Manchester clubs – two of Chelsea’s three rivals in the traditional top four – are set to bring in high-profile new managers.

I think Chelsea may feel they are missing a trick if they don’t do the same. I expect them to shake up and bring freshness to the team via a new voice in the dressing room.

Antonio Conte appears to be the likeliest candidate, having enjoyed great success at Juventus and translated that to his current job in charge of the Italian national team.

Conte took a vastly underachieving Juve team and, with a few astute additions, turned them into a side that won three consecutive league titles – one of them without losing a single game.

Italy were rudderless when he took charge after the 2014 World Cup and he has more than steadied the ship. They topped their Euro 2016 qualifying group comfortably and have lost just twice in 16 matches.

He would be a coup for a club not in the Champions League next year and an exciting hire who could attract top players. You can be sure he’d have a head start in luring players from Juve or Serie A.

A slight reservation about Conte is that all his experience has been in his native Italy. But Chelsea’s lack of European football might make next season a good chance for him to bed in and adapt to England.

One thing’s for certain: the timing is right. Conte won’t be available this time next year as he’ll be in the midst of a World Cup qualifying campaign. So if clubs want him they should act now.

Chelsea wouldn’t go far wrong if they kept Hiddink. He’s not perfect but he is good. He’s 69, though, so hardly the man for a long-term project. He’s also not done a full Premier League season.

The Blues need to be progressive and think of the next five years, which makes Conte a better choice. I expect them to do that, not least because two of their main rivals seemingly will.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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