LONDON: Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has hired some of the world's highest-profile managers during his 16-year reign, but relative rookie Frank Lampard is emerging as the favourite to occupy the Stamford Bridge hotseat.
With Italian Maurizio Sarri's departure to Juventus reported to be imminent, club talisman Eden Hazard already departed to Real Madrid and a FIFA transfer ban looming, Chelsea have arrived at a crossroads.
Derby County boss Lampard, adored by the Chelsea faithful for his record-breaking goalscoring exploits during a trophy-laden 13 years in west London, could be the ideal candidate to lead them in a new direction.
The 40-year-old earned plaudits for taking Derby into the Championship playoffs in his first year as a manager -- even if they just missed out on promotion to Aston Villa, for whom former team mate John Terry is part of the coaching staff.
During a playing career in which he won 11 major trophies with Chelsea, Lampard always stood out as a smart cookie.
He has taken his inquisitive mind into the managerial ranks and proved a fast learner at Derby where his blueprint was an intelligent passing game and a trust in youngsters.
Three of them -- Chelsea loanees Fikayo Tomori, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham -- were involved in the playoff final at Wembley and could all be back at Stamford Bridge next season.
With teenager Callum Hudson-Odoi having made the breakthrough under Sarri last season, Lampard would appear the ideal choice to construct a Chelsea side based on youth, perhaps with Derby assistant and former team mate Jody Morris, alongside.
Conversely, Lampard might feel it is the wrong time to make such a big move -- especially with the likely handicap of no summer signings and the vast chasm that already exists between Manchester City and Liverpool and the rest.
He would, however, be welcomed by the fans who would show him more patience than they did Sarri despite him taking them to third in the Premier League and winning the Europa League.
Several former team mates are in no doubt that he would be a success if given the chance to return to the club he left to join Manchester City in 2014.
"He is the perfect choice. People talk about experience and what-not but what experience did Pep (Guardiola) have when he went into Barcelona's first team? He trained the younger kids at the club," Rio Ferdinand said this week.
"Frank knows the club and he knows the players and the players will respect him. You can see he can carry himself in a particular way in front of the media and in the football club and he can change things within a season."
Former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba says Lampard's lack of top-flight managerial experience should not be a factor.
"Does he have to wait until he is 50 to be ready?" Drogba was quoted in the Metro. "I think it depends on your experience and depends on your desire to succeed and do it.
"If he feels ready I don't think it is too early."
While Sarri is still officially in charge, the prospective list of replacements is already lengthening.
Rafa Benitez's name crops up regularly, as does that of Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Nuno Espirito Santo while if Abramovich again wanted a marquee name, Massimiliano Allegri, who won five Serie A titles in a row, tops the list.