LONDON - Chelsea have started the search for their next manager, with Antonio Conte increasingly likely to leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.
Conte’s contract does not expire until next year but the 48-year-old Italian is already preparing to move on.
Max Allegri of Juventus and Luis Enrique, who quit as Barcelona boss last year, are the leading contenders to replace him. Maurizio Sarri, who has led Napoli to the top of Serie A, has also been considered but Diego Simeone is expected to be difficult to prise away from Atletico Madrid.
Former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is not being considered despite his availability since he was fired by Bayern Munich. He was a crowd favourite at the Bridge after winning the Double in 2010, his first season.
Allegri signed a new contract at Juventus last year which ties him to the Turin club until 2020. He has been at Juve for three years, winning the title three times and twice reaching the Champions League final. He has ambitions to work outside Italy.
Having been in charge at AC Milan he knows what it takes to manage amid great expectations and is committed to a brand of attacking football admired by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Enrique won the La Liga title twice and the Champions League once during his three years at Barcelona. He stepped down at the end of his contract last year and has expressed an interest in working in the Premier League.
Conte will not be short of offers when he leaves Chelsea. He is among the favourites to replace Unai Emery at Paris Saint-Germain and will be in the frame if Real Madrid sack Zinedine Zidane.
Conte’s reputation was enhanced by his success at Stamford Bridge last season before things started to unravel after he won the Premier League title. Chelsea could not complete the double, losing to Arsenal in the FA Cup final, and Conte spent a fractious summer locked in a prolonged dispute with the board over transfer policy.
Though unable to keep pace with runaway leaders Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, his team have performed well this season. They are still in all cups and on course to finish in the top four.
Meanwhile, Chelsea have appointed Guy Laurence as chief executive, a job title vacant since Ron Gourlay left the club in October 2014, with responsibilities for day-to-day operations at the club and commercial activities.