May 22, 2013, 11:06 PM EDT
I’ve never met the man, but over the course of the last six months, Rafa Benítez and I have had a ridiculously rocky relationship. When, seven months ago, he reentered my life, I was still judging him on the past, bitter at the Jim Jones act he’d pulled on all my Liverpool-loving friends. Then he gave me new reason to disdain his present, a throbbing mass of misanthropy pulsating in Roberto Di Matteo’s shoes. Yet as we sit here, on the cusp of world soccer’s silly seat, I’m forced to admit: I can see why another club would give the man a chance.
I wouldn’t have said the same in November. Not that I like going over old ground, but the obvious needs to be reiterated. He was the one that steered Liverpool out of the old Top Four. Inter took a chance on him in the wake of Mourinho, and Benítez was a disaster. By the time Benítez arrived at Stamford Bridge, he was three-and-a-half years removed from his last successful season.
Maybe some of that mojo was at play early on. Chelsea dipped. When he took over, they were within four points of first, but that didn’t last for long. Impressive performances (at home against Aston Villa) were coupled with beguiling failures (at Southampton). Top four became a battle.
That, however, was the Chelsea of winter. Come spring, the Blues looked like a solid squad. Fans might debate whether they were playing to their potential, but the team had at least stabilized. Ultimately, qualifying for Champions League wasn’t a problem, and the club added Europa League.
Now linked linked with a number of job across Europe, Benítez gets to reap the fruits of that revival. If Carlo Ancelotti leaves Paris Saint-Germain, Benítez will be in frame. He’ll be a candidate at Málaga, a job he seems unlikely to take, and whenever there’s an opening at the Bernabeu, Benítez will be linked with Real Madrid. Even in Naples, where Napoli is saying goodbye to Walter Mazzarri, Benítez’s name is being bandied about.
There’s a good discussion to be had as to how much Benítez actually helped Chelsea. You can also debate whether, at this point in his career, Benítez is a good fit for clubs with as many aspirations as Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, or Chelsea. I’m skeptical of both, but the fact that there’s a debate at all speaks to how far Benítez has come in the last three months.
After his first days at Chelsea, Benítez looked like he was writing another disappointing chapter to compelling, confounding career. Now the saga seems ready for a whole new act. Our misanthrope’s not going away any time soon.
Jul 29, 2015, 1:41 PM EDT
The latest news around the soccer world.
Jul 29, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
After losing his place at The Emirates last year, the 25-year-old will take a crack at proving himself again in Italy.
Jul 29, 2015, 11:40 AM EDT
Can Rodgers and the Reds bounce back to finish in the top four and win some silverware this season? His job might depend on it.
Jul 29, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
Mr. Mourinho and Mrs. Benitez are having a verbal battle via the press. This will not end well.
Jul 29, 2015, 9:40 AM EDT
Mourinho suffers two injuries to key players in Chelsea’s final game of U.S. tour.
Jul 29, 2015, 8:50 AM EDT
Ranieri has a big job on his hands to keep the Foxes out of the relegation zone. Can he succeed at the KP?
Jul 29, 2015, 8:15 AM EDT
Legendary French midfielder is red-hot favorite to replace Blatter.
Jul 29, 2015, 7:45 AM EDT
Oh Eden, stop it. Check out his latest piece of genius.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:08 PM EDT
Close to 80,000 saw Barcelona move to 1-2 in three ICC matches. Barca finishes off its tourney vs. Fiorentina in Florence on Aug. 2.
Jul 28, 2015, 9:16 PM EDT
Thank goodness Haris Vuckic’s brother follows his career over the web.
Jul 28, 2015, 7:16 PM EDT
Something tell us the exhibit won’t bring in the same sort of interest as the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, but it does fit the bill of organized crime.
Jul 28, 2015, 6:11 PM EDT
Here’s hoping MLS makes the idea of this contest laughable in the next decade, if not sooner. Like tomorrow.
Jul 28, 2015, 5:39 PM EDT
Who takes over the ship, one in which the majority of the hands reportedly liked playing for Herrera?
Jul 28, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT
Will they hold onto Stones and Coleman? If so, expect Everton to be in the Europa League discussion and to make a healthy bid for both Cups.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The nation has now changed men’s national team managers 15 times since 2000, and only two of those changes were caretaker moves.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Here’s a look at some of the top deals from another busy day across Europe.
Jul 28, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Can the Eagles surprise everyone again? With Cabaye running the show, don’t rule it out.
Jul 28, 2015, 11:25 AM EDT
The latest gossip includes a cryptic message from Benzema.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT
Mourinho: “In my opinion he should be in the top three.”
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