Luis Enrique favourite to replace Antonio Conte – and former Barcelona manager is preparing to move to England
Matt Law, football news correspondent
7 FEBRUARY 2018 • 7:00PMLuis Enrique is preparing to restart his managerial career in England with Chelsea rated as the Spaniard’s most likely destination.
Although Chelsea insist no discussions have taken place over replacing head coach Antonio Conte, Enrique has emerged as the favourite to succeed the Italian. It increasingly appears a matter of when and not if Conte will leave Stamford Bridge, following the heavy defeats to Bournemouth and Watford, even though owner Roman Abramovich would prefer not to make a change before the summer. Reports in Spain have claimed Enrique has already verbally agreed personal terms with the Premier League champions, but sources close to the 47-year-old have refused to comment on his links with Chelsea. Allies of Enrique have, however, confirmed that he wants to return to management in the Premier League and is busy trying to prepare himself for a move to England.
Enrique has managed in Spain, at Barcelona and Celta Vigo, and in Italy with Roma, and is now said to fancy the challenge of going up against Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho in the Premier League.
He is currently enjoying a sabbatical after standing down from his position at Barcelona, where he spent three successful years. It appears Enrique would not be keen on taking over Chelsea before the end of the season, particularly as many of his trusted backroom staff are at Celta. The contracts of Juan Carlos Unzué, Enrique’s former assistant who is now manager at Celta, assistant coach Robert Moreno, fitness coach Rafel Pol and psychologist Joaquín Valdes all run to 2019.
It is thought that Moreno, Pol and Valdes would all be able to follow Enrique to Chelsea in the summer, but it is unlikely Unzué would give up his job as Celta manager.
Arsenal could yet emerge as another potential destination for Enrique if Arsène Wenger leaves at the end of the season, but Chelsea may already have an agreement in place by then. Should Abramovich change his mind and sacks Conte before the end of the campaign, then Guus Hiddink may have to be asked to take caretaker charge for a third time while Chelsea wait for Enrique. Former Borussia Dortmund manager Thomas Tuchel may be more open to taking the Chelsea post immediately as he too seeks a return to management and is keen on the prospect of the Premier League. Tuchel is viewed as a realistic rival to Enrique, although his fall-outs with Borussia could put Chelsea off given the strained relationship between Conte and the board.
Conte granted his players three days off in the aftermath of the Watford defeat, following a request from captain Gary Cahill.
Cahill and a number of other Chelsea players have come out in support of Conte, but there is also a theory among some of the squad that the former Juventus man does not care if he is sacked.
Conte has made it clear he does not fear the axe and many of his words and actions have been interpreted inside the dressing-room as meaning that he is ready to go. That may have transmitted its way into recent performances.
With interest from Paris Saint-Germain and in his native Italy, Conte will be in a strong position if and when he leaves Chelsea. He would also continue to be paid under the terms of his contract that runs to 2019 until he accepted another job.
Chelsea and Conte face a pivotal spell in which they face West Bromwich Albion next Monday night, before they take on Hull City in the FA Cup, Barcelona in the Champions League and travel to both Manchester United and Manchester City. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/football/2018/02/07/luis-enrique-favourite-replace-antonio-conte-though-chelsea/
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