After just two seasons at Stamford Bridge, it is looking increasingly likely that Antonio Conte will be moving onto pastures new in the summer. The managerial merry-go-round at the club during Roman Abramovic’s tenure is starting to look archaic, especially when compared to the long-term projects that clubs like Liverpool and Tottenham have started in recent seasons. The time has come for Chelsea to take the first step in this process; appointing a coach who’s ready to stay at the club and build a legacy. In my opinion, the prime candidate for this should be Leonardo Jardim.
Experience beyond his years
Despite only being 43 years old, Jardim’s managerial career began 17 years ago as the assistant manager at A.D. Camacha in Madeira. He first came to wide-spread prominence during his spell at S.C. Braga in the Portuguese first division in the 2011-12 season, where he guided them to a third-place finish and set a new Primeira Liga record of 15 consecutive wins. After an ill-fated 6 months at Olympiacos, where he was sacked despite holding a 10-point cushion at the top of the league, he returned to Portugal to manage Sporting Lisbon. During his only season in the Portuguese capital, he rose to the fore of young and exciting European managers. His brand of attacking football won him many plaudits as he managed them to a 3rd place finish and guaranteed them Champion’s League football for the first time in 5 years. Following this, he made the move to AS Monaco where he’s had arguably his greatest success. By managing a range of clubs, he has gained experience and developed his versatility which is essential in the Premier League where the gulf in class between the top and bottom of the league is vast.
A revered developer of youth talent
Jardim is one of the most renowned coaches in world football for successfully integrating players into the first-team set-up. One of the main criticisms that Chelsea faces as a club is the lack of a well-trodden path from the youth academy into the first team. Recent seasons have seen young players like Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold go from academy prospects to household names. Given the investment Chelsea has made in their youth set-up, and the success of their under-18 squad, they should be leading the way in terms of giving these types of players a chance. As a manager, Jardim follows a simple philosophy: “If you’re good enough, you play”. This kind of bold decision making has led him to being credited with the development of several high-profile players around Europe. Most notably, of course, Kylian Mbappé, who went from making his first-team debut to a €145 million transfer to PSG in just two seasons under Jardim’s tutelage. Other notable examples include: Sporting’s William Carvalho, Arsenal target Thomas Lemar and Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva. With the wealth of talent Chelsea have both in their academy and on loan, it is essential they appoint a manager that can turn that potential into the finished article.
Free-scoring attack with a robust defence
The way he plays — an attacking style without compromising defensive solidity — is a testament to his skills as a tactician. Last season in Ligue 1, his Monaco side scored 107 goals and only conceded 31 as they brought L’Hexagoal to the Stade Louis II for the first time since the turn of the century. His preferred formation is a 4-4-2 which, although sounds rudimentary, he has adapted to get the best out of his players. This is perfectly illustrated by the way he has revived Radamel Falcao’s career after a severe knee injury and two uninspiring loan spells in England. He has found a way to compensate for Falcao’s lack of mobility by playing him alongside a more dynamic forward in a front two. The Chelsea team have criticised this season for appearing more like a group of individuals rather than a cohesive unit. The club is in desperate need of a manager that can come in, galvanise the squad and get them consistently playing the type of free-flowing attacking football that they have shown all too briefly in recent months. On an individual level, Eden Hazard is now 27 and needs to be turning in match-winning performances regularly to finally get himself into contention for the Ballon d’Or. An attacking coach like Jardim is ideal to facilitate this by allowing him the freedom to express himself on the pitch and elevate his game to the next level.
It hasn’t been the fairy-tale second season for Antonio Conte that many would have predicted. And, with him leaving the club outside the top 4 for just the third time in the Abramovic era, the future may be looking bleak at Stamford Bridge. Hopefully with Leonardo Jardim at the helm, he can help steer the ship out from the dark and back into the light.