Rafael Benitez: Summer Job Options for Chelsea's Europa League-Winning Manager
Chelsea's interim manager, Rafael Benitez, will shortly be departing his role at Stamford Bridge, but his five months of work at the club has yielded further tangible success to his resume with the dramatic victory in the UEFA Europa League final.
He's patently not wanted by those who pay their money to watch Chelsea play at home, despite the success he has brought them this year, but with a record of managing some of Europe's biggest sides and winning various trophies, he won't be short of job offers come summer.
A European Cup and a UEFA Cup on the record books already looks impressive; add to that the two La Liga titles won at Valencia, another top-four finish and a Europa League trophy attained in half a season with Chelsea's at-times dysfunctional unit, and the picture starts to look pretty clear that Benitez is a respected manager who plenty of clubs will be keen to attract.
So what might his choices be? Here are five clubs, or types of club, where the Spaniard could be working next season.
Big Money, Big Expectations
Current Paris Saint-Germain manager Carlo Ancelotti has been widely reported to be Real Madrid's preferred option to take over from Jose Mourinho this summer, though, according to The Guardian, PSG have also declined the possibility that the Italian could leave.
PSG are a club who have demanded almost instant success, splashing out huge transfer fees on the likes of Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura, as well as the massive wages of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the January signing of David Beckham.
There will no doubt be further funds available to strengthen the squad this summer after PSG secured their first Ligue 1 title since the mid-90s, as they bid to make up ground on Europe's heavyweights.
Benitez, as a two-time Champions League finalist, would perhaps appeal to the French side as they look to fight for success on two fronts and continue their growth next season. There would be enormous pressure on whichever manager took over from Ancelotti to hit the ground running with a talented group of players at his disposal, and Benitez has shown this season he can take a group and mould them into a winning unit at short notice.
Deja Vu in Following Mou
If Ancelotti's bosses at PSG stick to their guns, to whom will Real Madrid turn? Rafa Benitez has long been linked with taking over at the Santiago Bernabeu, dating back to his Liverpool days.
He has the credentials to do the job, but everybody knows it is fairly likely a long-term-but-temporary job, with the Madrid side changing managers frequently. Is two or three years of heavy pressure, ending with an inevitable exit, something Benitez is looking for right now?
Perhaps the lure to his Madrid side will be too strong to ignore, but following Jose Mourinho is a thankless task for any boss. Rafa in particular should steer clear of this job, even if it is offered to him.
Back to Italy for Unfinished Business?
Benitez had a short-lived and relatively unfulfilling spell in Italy as manager of Inter Milan in 2010, where he won the Italian Super Cup and the Club World Cup within six months before being fired for a poor league position.
To date it is his only spell as manager outside of Spain and England, and he may feel he wants another crack at Serie A.
There are two early possibilities that may crop up for him. Juventus have waltzed their way to another league title, but the BBC speculates that boss Antonio Conte may decide to leave if major reinforcements are not supplied to allow the team a crack at the Champions League title.
Juve, of course, would have their pick of managers as one of the biggest forces and names in world football, but it is not unreasonable to expect that Benitez would at the very least figure in the initial thinking.
Alternatively, speculation has grown in the Italian press about Benitez taking the place of Walter Mazzarri at Napoli, who have managed an impressive second-place finish in Serie A this season. Take a look at this report from Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
Athletic Bilbao in Spain, or a Project in England?
Benitez has said it himself: His preference is to remain in the Premier League in England for his next job. On the other hand, he also recognises that he may have to look further afield to find a suitable club to work with, and where better than his home country Spain?
Rafa outlines his preferences for his next job in this ESPN article:
There are two options for the future - to get a project, two or three years to build a team like at Liverpool. Or maybe a top side with money where you can buy some players and maybe be challenging for trophies from the beginning.
I'm sure we will have offers. We already have some clubs asking, but it depends on the level or the project. When I was not working, some people said 'he cannot get a job' but I had a lot of offers. But you are looking for a top side or for a proper project to build something.
Whether Athletic Bilbao in Spain falls under that remit—needing to rebuild without Javi Martinez this season and Fernando Llorente next season—is unclear, but boss Marcelo Bielsa will be leaving the club this summer.
In the Premier League, Manchester City seem set to appoint Manuel Pellegrini according to the BBC and various other reports—and that will in turn free up the Malaga job. It's not likely there will be extensive funds to spend, and European football is off the cards for now, but it certainly could be a "project."
It doesn't appear too likely at present that any of the clubs finishing seventh to 17th in the Premier League will be changing coaches this summer, Benitez won't drop down to the Championship, and Manchester United, Chelsea (presuming Mourinho arrives), Arsenal and Spurs all look as though their managerial preferences for next season are in place.
That only leaves one English top flight club with a current job opening to look at.
But he wouldn't...would he?