Pellegrini joins list of Chelsea contenders

Malaga boss claims Blues contact
Odds slashed on Redknapp
Lippi ready to make management return

MALAGA coach Manuel Pellegrini last night emerged as a shock candidate for the Chelsea manager’s job, after the Chilean’s agent said contact had been made about a possible move to Stamford Bridge.

The development came as bookmakers slashed the odds on Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp moving across London to succeed Carlo Ancelotti, who was sacked on Sunday after the club’s final day of the season.

And in a further twist, World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, this week recommended for the role by former Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli, revealed he is ready to resume work after a year-long hiatus.

Former Real Madrid coach Pellegrini, who rose to prominence by turning unfashionable Villarreal into Champions League regulars, has just finished his first season in charge of ambitious Malaga.

The South American, 57, earned plaudits for guiding the modest Andalucian side, now owned by a Qatari billionaire, to 11th place in the Spanish top division – and his agent indicated that form had alerted Chelsea.

“It is normal for clubs without a coach, such as Chelsea through intermediaries, to start asking Pellegrini, but he is very comfortable at Malaga and has a contract there,” said his representative Jesus Martinez. “He has put a lot of effort into Malaga and is pleased and excited to work with the team.”

Redknapp, who this week reiterated that he had not had any contact with Chelsea, went from 11/2 to 2/1 with one bookmaker yesterday, with others across the board at least halving their prices on him getting the job.

The experienced Guus Hiddink, who remains an advisor to Blues owner Roman Abramovich, and fellow Dutchman Marco van Basten remained the favourites last night. It has been suggested they could arrive in tandem, with Hiddink director of football and Van Basten head coach.

Lippi, who has not worked since quitting the Italian national team following last summer’s disastrous World Cup, has declared his “rest is over” and that he is planning his next move.

“This season I had many offers but I preferred to remain inactive,” said the 63-year-old, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup. “Now I think I’ve rested enough and I’m able to get back into the scrum. I’ll evaluate the offers I receive and I’ll choose the best, the most interesting one.”

Former Chelsea player and manager Vialli told City A.M. on Tuesday that Lippi was “one of the best candidates” for the vacancy.

Fans hankering for the return of Jose Mourinho look doomed to disappointment, however, after he won his power struggle with Real Madrid director Jorge Valdano. Valdano was sacked last night, strengthening Mourinho’s position at Real.