By Tim Harrison
Stamford Bridge breathed a sigh of relief when the season ended. Even the final day’s 1-1 draw with Leicester felt flat, although Blues fans gave the new champions, their supporters and former manager Claudio Ranieri a great reception.
For all the defiant words, this has been a grim 10 months.
The messiah went from Special One to historical footnote, and while his stand-in Guus Hiddink did a good job steadying the ship, the fact that he knew his was a brief tenure has meant no forward planning could be done.
Antonio Conte will start from scratch, which is probably not a bad thing.
Meanwhile, a new bond has been forged between Chelsea and Leicester. After the Blues blocked Spurs’ title bid to hand the trophy to the Foxes, supporters united in a hearty chorus of ‘Stand up if you hate Tottenham’. Away fans at the Shed end roared their appreciation for goal scorer Eden Hazard, and cheered when he touched the ball.
The post-match conference was amiable, with none of the curved balls or veiled jibes that sometimes characterise these curious staged gatherings.
Ranieri, 64, and Hiddink, 69, are both senior citizens of football. They enjoy international status (Guus has managed five national sides, Claudio one), they enjoy a good life/football balance, they are scrupulously polite and are shown respect in return. They’re the Waldorf and Statler of management, without the grumpiness.
But what now? Ranieri predicts clubs such as Chelsea will put up more of a fight in 2016/17, while Hiddink diluted the finality of the end of his part-time contract by revealing that he will still have a role in youth development at the Bridge.
Now the club embarks on rounds of talks with pushy agents, eager to bank percentages of sign-on fees.
Conte’s minimum goal is a top-four finish, but with Spurs, West Ham and Southampton joining the usual suspects, it’s no easy task.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham.