Chelsea’s late winner on Wednesday night brought another winner’s medal for interim manager Rafa Benitez.
As Branislav Ivanovic rose to meet Juan Mata’s corner to finally put Benfica down, Benitez could finally say it was all worth it. His short stint at Stamford Bridge has been full of acrimony, especially from the fans, but with Champions League football all but secured for next season and a trophy in the cabinet, it has at least been successful.
"I am really pleased and really proud because it was not easy. We have been talking about this the whole time.
"If you have to win for people to realise the job we are doing. Well, we won. Hopefully now people will say it is not bad,” Benitez told Sky Sports.
So where next for the former Liverpool, Valencia, and Internazionale coach? Here are five possible destinations.
Some Chelsea fans may laugh, but the ex-madrista and B-team coach would jump at a chance to manage Los Merengues. Benitez won two La Ligas with Valencia, has Champions League pedigree with Liverpool, and may be helped by Real’s inability to get their first choice, PSG’s Carlo Ancelotti. The only downside is it would mean being far away from his family who are settled on the Wirral in Merseyside.
Paris St Germain
If Real should succeed in poaching Ancelotti, Benitez would be a prime candidate for the top job at the Ligue 1 winners. The transfer budget would more than meet his demands, while Benitez’s skill at squad management would be much needed in a Parisian side that has more egos than a meeting of the world’s leaders.
Paris is not much further from his Liverpool home than London, while the chance to manage Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Lucas Moura, and potentially David Beckham should wet any manager’s appetite.
Well, erm, he’d be able to live with his wife and children!
With Manuel Pellegrini not yet confirmed at time of writing, there is a slim chance of a twist and that twist could be Benitez. The Chilean has said no deal has been agreed with City, while Malaga will not comment on their manager until their season ends on 1 June, so why not Benitez? He is a proven winner, the only title he hasn’t won in England is the Premier League, there needs to be a clear out at the Etihad, and the chief executive and director of football are both Spanish.
Pellegrini is the odds on favourite, but it might be worth Benitez sending his CV north.
It couldn’t happen, could it? If it were not for the fans, Benitez would surely be set to extend his interim stay for another 12 months, as stated in his contract. As it turned out, it was only the fact Benitez was in it for the short haul that quelled the discontent from the fans and allowed the ‘Interim One’ to work in something resembling a calm environment.
Roman Abramovich has shown previously that he is not afraid to go against the wishes of the terraces, with the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, and the hiring of Avram Grant all upsetting the supporters. The Russian oligarch should feel satisfied with Benitez’s work – he’s won a trophy, returned the side to the Champions League, helped developed some of the younger talent like Eden Hazard and David Luiz while slowly moving the older guard towards the exit. He has achieved what the board wanted, albeit under a fragile truce between coach, players and supporters.
The likelihood is Benitez will find himself unemployed come the start of next season. The Spaniard has stated he wants to work for a team that is competing for trophies, preferably in England, but his reputation is such that clubs are looking for fresher managers that do not carry the stigma of tight, defensive football, played in a stressful environment, with a manager who wants big transfer funds.
While this stigma is not entirely correct, there have been enough blots on Benitez’s copybook for the top clubs to think twice, and his reception at Chelsea will scare away some potential suitors.
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