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(SERGIO PEREZ)
(SERGIO PEREZ)

Who next for Chelsea hot seat? Add to ...

Arguably the hottest of hot seats in soccer is vacant yet again after Chelsea’s ruthless Russian owner Roman Abramovich removed Andre Villas-Boas on Sunday.

The callow Portuguese lasted just 256 days at Stamford Bridge before “the project”, as he usually referred to the task of revitalizing the west London club’s aging squad, was aborted.

The 34-year-old became the sixth coach to be axed since the Russian oligarch bought the club in 2003 and he will probably not be the last.

Accepting the Chelsea job is fraught with danger and rarely ends in a warm handshake -- however much silverware is added to the trophy cabinet.

Jose Mourinho, the most successful manager in the club’s history, was jettisoned after losing a battle of egos with the big boss and Carlo Ancelotti fell out of favour just a season after landing the league and FA Cup double.

Avram Grant came within a John Terry penalty miss of handing Abramovich the Champions League he craves.

Only Guus Hiddink, whose role was always a temporary one from February 2009 to the end of that season, escaped the wrath of Abramovich -- leaving with a friendly pat on the back after winning the FA Cup.

World Cup-winning coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, the man Hiddink was brought in to replace, survived not even as long as Villas-Boas and the Brazilian said on hearing of the latest casualty that it will “be hell” for the next candidate.

But who will that be? Speculation is already rife with a list including former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez, Mourinho and even possible England manager-in-waiting Harry Redknapp.

Here is a quick look at the leading candidates.

RAFA BENITEZ

Liverpool fans will always remember the goatee-bearded Spaniard for the improbable Champions League triumph over AC Milan in 2005 but a lack of Premier League success and a dreadful spell at Inter Milan haunt him.

However, his stock at Anfield has risen since his departure given Liverpool’s continued troubles and while Chelsea fans might question the style of football Benitez might serve up, he has the personality to deal with the senior players in the dressing room.

He could also be the man to reboot misfiring striker Fernando Torres, having signed him for Liverpool.

JOSE MOURINHO

The Special One II sounds like a Hollywood sequel but Chelsea fans will hope rumours of his return are not fiction.

Villas-Boas was supposed to be Abramovich’s new Mourinho - an impossible task as it turned out - and now the owner may go back to a tried and tested formula despite the pair failing out.

Mourinho had a special bond with the senior players during his three-year reign that brought two league titles, although should he return he would want an enormous war chest that could spell the end for the likes of Didier Drogba and John Terry.

PEP GUARDIOLA

Barcelona’s boss is rumoured to be leaving the Nou Camp at the end of the season with no new contract signed and FIFA’s World Coach of the Year would be a popular choice as Chelsea manager.

However, at Barca he merely had to conduct the orchestra having inherited a squad of talented players in their prime while at Chelsea he would have to swap the baton for a sledgehammer as he begins a major re-building project.

HARRY REDKNAPP

A long shot but a logical choice for Abramovich.

Tottenham fans are already resigned to losing their manager to England -- but losing him to Chelsea would be unthinkable.

His relationship with Abramovich would be interesting but has a proven track record of turning round teams’ fortunes and fuelling players with confidence. He would be the first Englishman to boss Chelsea since Glenn Hoddle in 1996.

GUUS HIDDINK

The popular Dutchman has the best win percentage of Abramovich’s managers, even better than Mourinho, albeit during a brief spell as temporary coach.

He steered Chelsea to a 2009 FA Cup triumph and Champions League semi-final before returning to his job as Russia coach.

The sticking point would be prising him away from FC Anzhi Makhachkala, the mega-rich Russian club who have made him the highest paid coach in world football only recently.

DIDIER DESCHAMPS

A safe pair of hands. The astute Frenchman spent a year at Stamford Bridge as a player before a natural move into management.

He impressed at Monaco by reaching a Champions League final, had a brief stint at Juventus taking them back up to Serie A and won Ligue 1 in 2010 with Olympique Marseille.

Marseille have been up and down since but he could be the man for a long-term project.

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