Chelsea's players facing uncertain future as Financial Fair Play rules could restrict new manager
Now for the hard part. Having fired the manager rather than the team, Roman Abramovich and his advisers with their conflicting advice have now to recruit a replacement. They must then supply him with the means, and the backing, to fulfil one of the game's hardest briefs.
The successor to Andre Villas-Boas will be tasked with the same daunting target as the Portuguese: overhaul an ageing team to create an entertaining, winning one, and do it without any slippage of results.
As if this were not nigh on impossible, there is another factor to contend with, if Abramovich intends to take any notice of it: Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules.
Michel Platini's masterplan to save football from itself (or, rather, its club owners) is already in process. The figures from this and next season will form the first Monitoring Period (MP) and will be used to assess licences to play in European competition in 2014-15. In the first MP, clubs are allowed to lose €45m (£38m) in total (which must be covered, in equity, by the owner).
At present Chelsea are borderline to pass this test. In January the club revealed losses of £67.7m for the 12 months to June 2011. Although this followed a £70.9m loss the previous year Chelsea argued that progress was being made as turnover was up, wages down, and £30m of the loss was accounted for by "exceptional payments" – compensation paid to Carlo Ancelotti and his staff for being fired, and Porto for poaching Villas-Boas.
It is not clear yet whether Uefa will include such "exceptionals" in FFP – given Abramovich's hiring-and-firing history such payments are not exactly "exceptional". Next year's figures may thus include more than £10m compensation to Villas-Boas and his staff, as well as the £80m investment in Juan Mata, Raul Meireles, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Oriol Romeu, Gary Cahill and Kevin De Bruyne. With income set to fall if Chelsea go out of Europe against Napoli next week, and especially if they fail to reach next season's Champions League, meeting FFP is unlikely.
Uefa have hinted they will initially meet breaches with fines especially if clubs are seen to "be moving in the right direction". However, it is clear Chelsea need to continue cutting costs and/or increase revenue. By 2018 they are supposed to be roughly breaking even. The fastest way to raise funds is through transfers, the easiest means of reducing costs is to slash wages. Both solutions mean selling high earners, often the better, more established players. Significantly, wages relating to contracts signed before June 2010 are not included in the 2011-2012 reporting period, which means those of players such as Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda and John Terry can be written out of this season's figures.
Next year, however, they will be included, which suggests Chelsea should try to move several on in the summer. The departure of Drogba and Malouda, probably to France, would be no great surprise, but neither Lampard nor Terry shows any inclination to leave. After the experience of Villas-Boas, will a new manager dare take them on?
Among other big earners, Ashley Cole has suffered his first average season in years, but remains a valuable hard-to-replace player, especially if, as is conceivable, he retires from international duty after Euro 2012 to prolong his club career. A new contract for Petr Cech has been discussed, but the club do have the impressive Courtois waiting in the wings on loan at Atletico Madrid.
The promising Belgian's signing was part of a pattern. Aside from Meireles, all this season's arrivals are young players whom a new manager can build a team around. But that, as Arsène Wenger could point out, takes time – and there is no likelihood of any Chelsea manager being given much of that. To maintain results veterans need to be retained, or more players in the key 26-to-28-year-old bracket signed, which is likely to be expensive. Of the current squad only Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic and Salomon Kalou will be in that range next season and the latter may be on his way in any case.
The question is, after Abramovich told the squad they are "playing for their futures", who will join him?
End game: who will jump off the Bridge?
TIME TO GO? Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Jose Bosingwa, Paulo Ferreira, Hilario
ONE MORE SEASON? John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Petr Cech
OPEN TO OFFERS? Salomon Kalou, John Obi Mikel, Fernando Torres, Michael Essien, Raul Meireles
THE FUTURE? Juan Mata, Ramires, Daniel Sturridge, Gary Cahill, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz, Romelu Lukaku, Oriol Romeu, Josh McEachran, Thibaut Courtois, Kevin de Bruyne, Ryan Bertrand, Lucas Piazon