5 Fan-Friendly Replacements for Rafa Benitez at Chelsea

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 1, 2013

5 Fan-Friendly Replacements for Rafa Benitez at Chelsea

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    As Chelsea's interim manager, Rafa Benitez's contract expires in the summer. And after the Blues' midweek draw with Reading—where they let slip a two-goal lead in the closing stages of the game—it doesn't look likely his time at Stamford Bridge will be extended.

    But who will step in on a permanent basis to replace the Spaniard? Pep Guardiola was the favourite for many until he agreed to join Bayern Munich in time for 2013/14, while a host of other managers have been linked with the Blues.

    What is clear is Chelsea's need to appoint a manager who will recapture the Stamford Bridge faithful's imagination and reignite their love affair with owner Roman Abramovich.

    Firing a Chelsea legend in Roberto Di Matteo and replacing him with an old foe in Benitez was never going to be a good PR move, but what appointment would?

    In no particular order, Bleacher Report identifies five candidates who could get the Chelsea fans back on side.

1. Jose Mourinho

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    "Bring back the Special One" was a song that often echoed from the Stamford Bridge terraces following Jose Mourinho's departure in 2007 as Chelsea fans urged Roman Abramovich to go back on his decision to fire the popular Portuguese.

    It was to no avail, of course, but given all that has happened this season, with fans protesting against Rafa Benitez's appointment, now, more than ever, the time to bring Mourinho back seems perfect.

    Not only are Chelsea fans disgruntled with an old foe in Benitez being manager, but the club appears to be in a state of flux. Chelsea needs a manager that fans can relate to and support as they build for the future and look to cement their credentials as contenders for major trophies.

    Mourinho has shown himself to be brave and unsentimental in his decisions as a coach, which would prove a vital asset as Chelsea move forward. And given his history with the Blues, it's not hard to consider the fans treating his return as The Second Coming.

    With rumours abound that his time at Real Madrid is nearing an end (as explained by Peter Jenson in the Daily Telegraph), it seems realistic we could see Mourinho back in west London next term, too.

    Chelsea fans will certainly hope that's the case.

2. Jurgen Klopp

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    Borussia Dortmund have won back-to-back league titles under Jurgen Klopp and the 45-year-old is rightly widely regarded as one of Europe's most talented managers.

    He has been in the hot seat at the Westfalenstadion since 2008 and in that time has moulded a host of Dortmund's academy products into a title-winning force. It's a fine track record and given all he has achieved, the German would seem a smart appointment for Chelsea.

    Blues fans are tired of seeing managers come and go; in Klopp they could get a man who is proven at not only building teams, but also sustaining their success.

    John Terry is a hero at Stamford Bridge, not only for what he has achieved in becoming the club's most successful captain, but also for the fact he has risen from the Stamford Bridge ranks to wear the jersey with such aplomb.

    In an age where the Blues can, and do, buy some of the world's finest players, the idea of one of '"heir own" leading the team is what all fans want to see. With Klopp's experience in nurturing young talent, the thought of the next John Terry emerging under him isn't such a wild thought. For that alone Chelsea fans would welcome the German with open arms.

3. Gianfranco Zola

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    A hero as a player, there's no doubt Gianfranco Zola would become an instant hero as manager at Chelsea simply for everything he achieved in his playing days with the club.

    The sentiment surrounding his playing ability lives on at Stamford Bridge, with his name still sung with gusto a decade after he departed. In fact, in a recent fan poll to name Chelsea's top 100 players of all time in the club's official magazine, the Italian was voted third behind Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba.

    Appointing Zola as manager would undoubtedly appease Chelsea fans in the short term, but whether it would be the right appointment for football reasons is a big question. Zola's managerial career is limited and thus far, he hasn't shown enough to convince his ability in the dugout matches that on the pitch.

    Roman Abramovich has already witnessed the backlash in the aftermath of firing another legend in Roberto Di Matteo, but where Zola's concerned, one suspects it would be on a much higher level.

4. Michael Laudrup

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    From the Sixties right through to the present day, Chelsea fans have always taken to suave characters leading the team and in that sense Michael Laudrup very much fits the bill.

    Not only that, but his impact at Swansea City this season has been considerable, with the Swans reaching their first-ever major cup final while also riding high in the league.

    They had to beat Chelsea to reach the Capital One Cup final, of course, and as the proverb reads: "If you can't beat them, join them."

    Laudrup would earn instant respect from the Chelsea dressing room for what he achieved in his playing days with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and his year as Swansea boss would certainly impact the fans' impression of him.

    Given their approach to the game under Brendan Rodgers and now Laudrup, Swansea have grown to become a neutral's favourite. Were Laudrup to implement a similar style at Chelsea, it would be a welcome addition.

    The Dane is a major name in world football and is man on the rise as a manager.

5. Gus Poyet

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    Another of Chelsea's former stars of the Nineties to be enjoying success in management, Gus Poyet is another who would be cheered through the door at Stamford Bridge.

    The sentiment toward the current Brighton & Hove Albion boss being appointed as manager would stem back to the very idea that, in the Uruguayan, Chelsea fans would have a man cut from the same cloth as them. He has played for the club, won trophies for the club and understands all that it represents to the supporters.

    Indeed, with everything else put to one side, that has been the major criticism of Rafa Benitez. Chelsea fans haven't afforded him time as he is an outsider with the wrong sort of history. He isn't one of them.

    Whether that's the right or wrong approach is for Chelsea fans to decide, but in someone like Poyet, they would be getting a manager who is very much the opposite to the man currently in charge at Stamford Bridge.