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â€¢ Spaniard suggests Liverpool fans would forgive him
â€¢ BenÃtez has had offers from clubs and a national team
Rafael BenÃtez has become the first high-profile candidate to declare an interest in the vacant Chelsea manager’s position and suggested he would be forgiven by Liverpool supporters if he were to return to the Premier League at Stamford Bridge.
The Chelsea hierarchy are scrutinising their options after dismissing AndrÃ© Villas-Boas on Sunday a little over eight months into a three-year contract, with the London club fifth in the Premier League and risking a failure to qualify for the Champions League for the first time under Roman Abramovich’s stewardship. The owner is to sound out Barcelona’s Pep Guardiola, whom he regards as his ideal appointment, and JosÃ© Mourinho at Real Madrid to ascertain if either would be willing to take over in the summer.
Yet, although their futures in La Liga are in some doubt, there is an acknowledgement at Chelsea that negotiating either manager’s smooth passage to London would be complicated and costly â€“ even for a club who have paid Â£64m and counting in compensation to clubs and managers over the past five years â€“ with that reality offering hope to other contenders.
The merits of Borussia Dortmund’s JÃ¼rgen Klopp, Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp and Germany’s Joachim LÃ¶w will be discussed, and BenÃtez, whose Liverpool enjoyed a fierce rivalry with Chelsea, particularly during the Mourinho era, will cling to the fact that he was tentatively approached last month over the possibility of taking up the reins on a short-term basis until the summer.
The Spaniard rejected that scenario, insisting on at least an 18-month arrangement, with Chelsea’s interest having cooled significantly since. Yet the former Internazionale manager pushed his own case for consideration on Monday night in the belief that he would not fracture his relationship with fans on Merseyside in the process. “Can anybody argue [against the fact] that the Liverpool fans love me? No,” said BenÃtez. “If we agree with this, what do you want for somebody who you love? The best for him. I cannot be waiting at home for five years. Everybody understands that I will need a job.
“If they want me to have the best, they can say you can manage a team at the bottom of the table or manage a team at a top of the table and try to win trophies. That is my idea, to have the option of a top side and try to win trophies. If they love me, they will understand.
“I have had two or three offers from clubs and one from a national team. I want to win trophies; it’s not just a case of wanting a job and having some money. It has to be something. They have now Roberto Di Matteo in [temporary] charge, and I have to respect the manager in charge. I have to wait and [see] if something happens in the future. As a manager with experience in the Champions League, in Spain and in Italy, I am open to offers.”
Whether Chelsea fans would accept his appointment is open to some doubt and an offer is likely only if the hierarchy’s principal targets are deflected â€“ Sven-Goran Eriksson also put forward his own name last night but is not a candidate â€“ with one of Abramovich’s former managers, Luiz Felipe Scolari, having warned that whoever takes the position will face a daunting challenge. “Villas-Boas was a champion and he will continue to be,” said Scolari. “He needed to replace at least seven or eight players [players who had been at the club] even since I was there, but he failed. It will be hell for whoever succeeds him.”
Abramovich is seeking a sixth permanent manager in under five years yet BenÃtez, who succeeded Mourinho at Internazionale but was sacked after less than six months, would have no qualms working for “one of the new owners in football who are investing big money”. Perhaps more significantly, heBenÃtez claimed Fernando Torres â€“ Chelsea’s underperforming Â£50m British record signing from Liverpool â€“ can still return to the prolific form of his Anfield days as the striker still has “potential, quality and desire”.
Di Matteo, who has been joined on the coaching staff by his former No2 at West Bromwich Albion, the former Chelsea midfielder Eddie Newton, will oversee the side for the first time against Birmingham City on Tuesday evening in an awkward fifth-round FA Cup replay at St Andrew’s. The squad were made aware of Abramovich’s intense frustration and anger at a season of underachievement during an hour-long meeting at Cobham immediately after Villas-Boas’ sacking on Sunday â€“ the Portuguese was the owner’s personal appointment â€“ with the players accepting they must now attempt to salvage the campaign.
“I think we have to start again,” said Juan Mata, a player bought by Villas-Boas from Valencia last summer and one of the team’s more consistent performers. “We are not in a good moment, we are not in a good run of results but we all want to change it. I think we are ready to change it. We have a very good squad and we have two months to achieve our objectives in the Premier League, in the FA Cup and Champions League.”