- What does the future hold for a number of big-name coaches? The summer could be big not just for transfers, but for managerial changes, too.
Chelsea clinched the Premier League title Friday in England, leaving coach Antonio Conte looking ahead to next season, but while his position is stable, some other high-profile managers aren't as fortunate. Across Europe, the managerial merry-go-round is yet to get underway, but we look at four clubs where there could be changes in the hot seat in the next few weeks.
Has Diego Simeone reached the end of his cycle at Atletico Madrid? Is there a way back for Thomas Tuchel at Borussia Dortmund? Who will Inter Milan’s new technical director hire as coach with Stefano Pioli shown the door? Can Champions League-qualified Nice hold onto Lucien Favre?
All these questions and more are analyzed in this week’s look Around Europe:
Chelsea beat West Brom 1-0 Friday to secure the Premier League title and this was a success that belonged to coach Antonio Conte, whose decision to play three at the back effectively determined the title as it kick-started a run of 13 straight wins.
There cannot be many coaches in the Roman Abramovich era whose position is one of such strength. Chelsea underperformed last season, and Conte propelled it from 10th 12 months ago to top of the table. That’s an even more impressive achievement, arguably, than other foreign coaches who have won their title in their debut season in England: Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Manuel Pellegrini.
Conte looked to enjoy the moment, even when he was getting doused in champagne, and you know that the plans for defending the title, and challenging in the Champions League, will be underway already.
With that in mind, it will be fascinating to see how the club’s transfer window plays out. If it looks likely that Diego Costa will leave for China, will Romelu Lukaku. Alexis Sanchez or someone else come in? Will Chelsea be able to see off interest from Real Madrid in Eden Hazard? And are squad players like Willian and Cesc Fabregas happy with the amount of game time they had this season, with the knowledge that other clubs (Manchester United and AC Milan, respectively) are interested in them? These are issues for technical director Michael Emenalo rather than the coach, who might be aware that the last three title-winning coaches at Stamford Bridge all left within a year.
Conte has two years left on his current deal, and with interest from Inter Milan clear and lucrative, he is in a good position to get a new contract. The one knock on his career at Juventus, though, was his record in Europe; his team won only won knockout tie, against Celtic, and in his final season it finished behind Real Madrid and Galatasaray in the group stage. The following season, Max Allegri took Juventus to the final, as he has done so this campaign too.
Chelsea needs to keep its key players over the summer and improve in other areas. Add to that the regular Chelsea request of selecting the best crop from the academy (which none of Conte’s predecessors have managed), and the likelihood that its rivals will get better for next season (though that was said last year too). Conte’s real challenge, though, will be defending the title alongside the challenge of European football.
Atletico Madrid went out of the Champions League this week but it went down in style; in Atletico style, fighting, battling and giving Real Madrid an almighty scare in a 2-1 home win. After the game, coach Diego Simeone said he was proud of his players, and happy with the result. On paper, Atletico’s aristocratic neighbors had once again dashed its dream; in reality, Atletico bid farewell to the Vicente Calderon with a match for the ages. Simeone hugged his players on the whistle, and pointedly clapped all four corners of the old ground.
As the final weeks of the season come into view, with the club's third-place finish sealed after Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Real Betis, the question now is Simeone’s next move: does he stay, or does he go?
Simeone’s contract runs to the end of the next season, and he was expected to lead Atletico into its new stadium, the Wanda Metropolitano. But perhaps this might be a good time to say goodbye. Five who started against Real Madrid are over 30, and another two, Antoine Griezmann and Jan Oblak, are on the transfer wishlist of some of Europe’s best clubs (and Manchester United). The team is 14 points worse off than it was when it won the league back in 2014, and you wonder how much more Simeone can get out of them.
This was a team that had not beaten Real Madrid for 14 years before Simeone turned up. He has helped it win the Europa League, the European SuperCup, the Copa del Rey, La Liga and a Spanish SuperCup.
It also reached two Champions League finals, and a semifinal, in that period. “Simeone has been the most influential coach in the club’s history,” admitted club president Enrique Cerezo.
Surely winning five trophies in six years, as Simeone has done, gives you the right to decide when to walk away.
The worry is that if Simeone and Griezmann leave at the same time, added to the issues that moving into a new stadium brings, that Atletico will fall further behind the big two that, for a short while, became a big three.
It was a crazy weekend in the Bundesliga where it rained goals: Hoffenheim beat Werder Bremen 5-3, while Bayern Munich came from 4-2 down against second-place RB Leipzig to win 5-4 thanks to two stunning goals after the 90-minute mark. But in terms of intrigue, Augsburg was the place to be; this was where Borussia Dortmund, chasing third place and a direct spot in the Champions League group stage without needing the qualifiers, drew 1-1 with the relegation-battling host.
Things have unraveled quickly for Dortmund coach Thomas Tuchel, who only a few weeks ago masterminded a dramatic German Cup semifinal win over Bayern Munich to put the side within touching distance of its first trophy since 2012.
If the team, which was eliminated by Monaco in the Champions League, finished third and won the cup, it would represent a successful season, on the pitch at least. But it was made clear in an interview given by Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke that it’s not just the sporting side that concerns him. Watzke disagreed with how Tuchel publicly handled the fallout from Dortmund’s bus bombing last month; that Tuchel criticized UEFA for making Dortmund play the quarterfinal less than 24 hours later and implicitly suggested he had nothing to do with the decision to play.
“As always, it is not only just about the sporting side, but also about strategy, communication and trust,” Watzke told WAZ.
The leakier an organization, the less happy it is, and last week, negative stories about the coach emerged. This has become a political battleground, and it’s one that Tuchel is unlikely to win. German media outlets have reported that Lucien Favre and Laurent Blanc have been approached to replace the German coach.
The draw at Augsburg still gives Dortmund a slight edge in the race for third. It’s level on points with Hoffenheim with one game to go, with a superior goal difference (thanks in part to Bremen pulling back three goals when 5-0 down against Hoffenheim). Two more wins, against Bremen next week and then Eintracht Frankfurt in the cup final, and it has to go down as a successful season, especially after Dortmund sold the spine of its team–Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan–last summer.
Under Tuchel this year, Dortmund has, at times, played some wonderful football. Tuchel challenges his players but also improves them–just look at the development of the likes of Julian Weigl (injured against Augsburg and out for four months) and Ousmane Dembele, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is on course for the most prolific season of his career.
Watzke and Tuchel may not see eye-to-eye, but any director of a top European club should be alert to the opportunity this brings. Tuchel could be available this summer and he would improve most teams in the world. He has been linked to Barcelona. He would be a perfect fit for Arsenal. Whoever makes a move for him will be getting one of the most talented coaches in the game.
Inter Milan fired its coach Stefano Pioli last week and has drawn up a shortlist of Antonio Conte, Diego Simeone and Mauricio Pochettino to replace him. Given that the side is out of European contention and currently 29 points behind Serie A leader Juventus, you have to admire its ambition.
There is a chance that Simeone, a former Inter player who has spoken about one day coaching his ex-team, might return, but there would be some risk attached, given Inter sacked Frank de Boer two months into the new season, and left Pioli high and dry with only three games left.
The fans made their feelings clear on the subject: they walked out after 20 minutes of Inter’s latest defeat, a 2-1 home loss to Sassuolo. It was Inter’s fourth straight loss and caps a run of only two points in the last eight games.
“Since you do not deserve our support ... today we are just going to go and get something to eat," said one of the banners at the lunchtime kickoff. The stadium was practically empty on the final whistle.
Inter director Piero Ausilio hardly helped the situation by telling Mediaset that Pioli was shown the door, replaced in the interim by youth coach Stefano Vecchi, “out of respect,” to give him time to find a new job. “When you take an extreme course of action like firing a coach, it’s a last desperate way of proving to the players that it’s up to them now,” Ausilio said. “The disadvantage of our place in the table is actually an advantage, because it gives us time to build and get our situation together.”
Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was less sympathetic to the current situation: “Inter can't find themselves in this situation in the league table. You have to be patient, but only up to a certain point. It's the most difficult moment since I've been here. It's been like this for the whole year, we can't hang onto little things. We need to analyze things well without looking for excuses. We need to understand where we are going wrong and go again. We need to end the season well.”
Inter owners Suning Group has made one important appointment this week: hiring Walter Sabatini as technical director across Inter and Chinese club Jiangsu Suning. Until last year, Sabatini held the same post at Roma; hence the link to Roma’s current boss Luciano Spalletti seems inevitable. Sabatini has a tough job: develop the two squads in tandem and find some stability at a club that has lacked it for too long now.
Big wins for Monaco (4-0 over Lille) and PSG (5-0 at Saint-Etienne) mean the former and Ligue 1 leader needs only one point from its last two games to clinch the title, which it could do as soon as Wednesday when it plays Saint-Etienne. After a superb season in the Principality, the big question will be which players stay and who goes. A similar headache awaits for Nice president Jean-Pierre Riviere, whose club, despite losing 2-0 at home to Angers, has sealed third place and a spot in the Champions League.
First, the architect of this success, coach Lucien Favre. The Swiss manager has a contract until 2021, but he is already on the list of Borussia Dortmund. Bayer Leverkusen is also interested, and other suitors could emerge, depending on who else moves around. Keeping Favre has to be Riviere’s priority.
Other stars of this campaign will definitely leave. Captain Paul Baysse is out of contract and claimed not to have received an offer to renew. He would be an attractive free agent. Then there are the loan players: Mario Balotelli will go back to AC Milan and Younes Belhanda to Dynamo Kiev, but after a good season, the Ukrainian club will likely sell him on. Nice had a €10 million option to purchase but turned it down.
Right winger Ricardo Pereira has been outstanding this season; he is on loan from FC Porto, and available for €25 million. Porto want to loan him out for one more year and increase that release clause. The fifth starter likely to leave is Ivorian midfielder Jean Michael Seri, who has been linked to PSG and English clubs. If someone comes close to his release clause (said to be €40 million), then he will leave too.
Who does that leave for Nice? Left back Dalbert Henrique, center backs Dante and Malang Sarr, midfielder Vincent Koziello, striker Alassane Plea and winger Wylan Cyprien. Add in a question mark over goalkeeper Yoann Cardinale and it could be a challenging summer ahead for Riviere on the Riviera–and fodder for why Favre would seek another sideline option.
Top three goals of the week
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich): A 40-yard run, dribbling past two players and scoring the winning goal in the 94th minute at the age of 33? Let's give Robben some respect.
Gael Danic (Bastia): Bastia climbed off the bottom of Ligue 1 thanks in part to this strike from midfielder Danic from the halfway line.
David Alaba (Bayern Munich): With a free kick for Bayern to make it 4-4, the Austrian once again showed that he is one of the best in the game striking a dead ball.
Top three players of the week
Dirk Kuyt (Feyenoord): The Dutch veteran scored a hat trick for Feyenoord to help his side win the Dutch Eredivisie title.
Kylian Mbappe (Monaco): More sumptuous skill from the exciting teenager who set up two goals as Monaco edged closer to the Ligue 1 crown.
Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea): Used as a sub or not at all for most of the season, the Belgian has never once complained and popped up to score Chelsea’s title-winning goal.