Rafael Benitez hopes to guide Chelsea to a Champions League return before handing over to his successor – and the Spaniard has suggested the new boss will be Jose Mourinho.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s Barclays Premier League clash with Tottenham, where victory would virtually seal Champions League football next season for the 2012 winners, Benitez indicated he expects Mourinho to return to Stamford Bridge.
Real Madrid coach Mourinho, who left after three years as Blues boss in September 2007, has been strongly linked with a return, with a date of July 1 mooted.
“The next year there will be another manager,” said Benitez, who replaced Roberto Di Matteo in November and will depart this summer at the end of his short-term contract.
“I think everybody knows who will be here.”
Benitez was asked if he would volunteer help to the new manager.
He said: “Good question. You think that he will ask me?
“That’s something you have to ask the new manager.”
Chelsea skipper John Terry dropped similar hints.
He told the Sun: “It is important for both of us to show respect to Real Madrid because he has a contract there.
“For me, personally, it is difficult to go into this subject.
“But the fans have shown clearly that he is a man they love, above all for what he won, and for pushing the club in a direction it had never gone in before.
“He is still the ’Special One’.”
Due to his prior association with Liverpool, where he regularly crossed swords with Mourinho both domestically and in Europe, Benitez was an unpopular appointment among Blues fans, the majority of whom adore the Portuguese.
Benitez has quietly moved within sight of his targets since the vitriol towards him quietened down in the wake of his plea to supporters following the FA Cup win at Middlesbrough in February.
Chelsea are in next week’s Europa League final with Benfica and victory in the London derby with Tottenham would lift Benitez’s third-placed team six points clear of Spurs with two games to play and a far superior goal difference.
In the opposite dugout at Stamford Bridge will be another former Chelsea manager – Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas.
Asked to appraise the Spurs boss, who suggested he was undermined by senior players while at Chelsea, Benitez insisted he has no such problems at Stamford Bridge.
“I think he’s a good manager. He’s working hard for his new team,” Benitez said, before commenting on his squad.
“What I find every day is a very good group of players, keen to learn.
“You could see a lot of improvement this year. It’s a good group of professionals.”
Benitez praised Gareth Bale but insisted Chelsea had no special plans for the PFA Player of the Year and said Spurs should be wary of the likes of Juan Mata and Eden Hazard, who is available after missing the Manchester United win with a calf injury.
The Old Trafford triumph saw the Blues move within sight of second-placed Manchester City and Benitez, who is keen to wrap up Champions League qualification prior to next week’s trip to Amsterdam, is looking upwards, rather than behind to Arsenal and Spurs.
“If you have the qualification done, then you can concentrate a little bit more (on the final),” Benitez said.
“Still we want to finish in the top three or even more – it depends on the other results.
“We will try to win every (game), but if you have guaranteed a position it’s always easier.”