Belfast Telegraph

Antonio Conte in frame if Chelsea axe falls on Mourinho

By Mark Ogden

Antonio Conte will be the leading candidate to replace Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager if the Portuguese coach fails to arrest the slide that has left him facing the sack at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho goes into tomorrow's Champions League tie against Porto, the club he guided to the European Cup in 2004, with Chelsea having lost 10 games in all competitions following Saturday's 1-0 home defeat to relegation-threatened Bournemouth.

And while the 52-year-old retains the backing of club owner Roman Abramovich, a further defeat against Porto, which would see Chelsea suffer group-stage elimination assuming Dynamo Kiev beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv, may force the Russian to act in an attempt to breathe new life into the faltering Premier League champions, who lie 14 points adrift of the top four.

Conte, who guided Juventus to three consecutive Serie A titles earlier this decade, is employed as Italy manager and unlikely to vacate his post before taking charge of the Azzurri at Euro 2016 next summer.

However, the 46-year-old has admirers within the Chelsea hierarchy, who have so far backed Mourinho due to the lack of credible - or available - candidates to replace him.

Conte is understood to be open to a move to the Premier League after Euro 2016 and although he is committed to the Italy job until his contract expires next summer, any change in Mourinho's situation at Stamford Bridge could prompt a shift of stance should the Chelsea job become available in the coming weeks.

Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola could become a candidate if he informs his current employers this month that he wishes to leave the Allianz Arena when his contract expires in June, although Manchester City are the favourites to tempt the Spaniard to England.

Carlo Ancelotti, who guided Chelsea to the League and FA Cup Double in 2010, has ruled out a return to management during this season, although he is keen to work again from next summer after leaving Real Madrid at the end of last season.

Mourinho, meanwhile, has received the backing of the former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who insists that Chelsea already possess the best man for the job.

"He (Abramovich) has sacked so many coaches in the last 10 years that I am sure he has learned by it," said Ferguson. "He has to trust and have confidence Jose can turn this around.

"There is no point in sacking one of the best coaches of all time, he's won the European Cup twice, he's won the league in each country he's managed in, he's won the big trophies. It would be foolish to take that step to sack him. That would be bad management."

Ferguson added: "For Jose, I think all good leaders will eventually find a solution. He will think he will find a solution and get it back to normal, but I know the guy and I know the work he has done and I can't see (this slump in form) lasting long."

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