Rafael Benitez has made it clear that he is open to job offers in the Premier League — including, in the longer term, from Chelsea.
Well-placed sources have indicated that, even before Andres Villas-Boas got the chop at the weekend, the former Liverpool manager had been sounded out about taking over at Stamford Bridge, at least until the end of the season, but the Spaniard decided against taking up an interim position.
Benitez declined to confirm that story yesterday but did allow that he required “a proper offer on the table” before he could say yes or no to any club. The manager, out of work since parting company with Inter Milan in December 2010, was speaking in Trinity College where last night he was awarded the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage by the university’s Philosophical Society.
“I am a manager who is waiting for a job so I cannot stop speculation or people talking,” he said. “Chelsea have Di Matteo now so I have to respect the manager in charge and just wait to see if anything happens in the future. As a manager with Champions League experience, Premier League experience and also in Spain and Italy, I am open to offers. But I need a proper offer on the table before I can say yes or no. At this moment I don’t have any offer on the table.”
Benitez and his family still live on Merseyside and, asked if — given the sometimes bitter rivalry which has grown up between the clubs in recent years — he would feel comfortable returning to Anfield as boss of Chelsea, he replied with a smile: “I don’t think anyone can argue that the Liverpool fans love me. And what do you want for someone you love? The best for him. I cannot wait at home for five years.
“Everybody can understand that I will need a job. And that is my idea — to have an option with a top side and challenge for trophies.”
Benitez said that since Inter, he has had “two or three offers from clubs and one from a national team” but none met with his desire to be in the hunt for major silverware.
“If I have to go to manage another club, my priority is England, if I have to go to another country, I have to do it,” he said. “But still my family will have Liverpool in their hearts. One thing is a personal life and connection with the city and fans, but at the same time I have to move forward and find another job and start working. Sometimes you cannot choose where.”
One thing’s for sure: he won’t be going to Old Trafford or even just across Stanley Park, though he does say that he gets on better with Liverpool’s city neighbours these days.
“Because of my relationship with the Liverpool fans, I have said that there are two clubs I would not go to so there are a lot of clubs I can still go to,” he said. “I have a very good relationship with people in the city — including Evertonians!”
Looking to Euro 2012, Benitez said that, while Ireland can make it tough for their opponents, he considers his native Spain favourites to come out on top when the countries meet in June.
“I think Ireland can do well because they have a manager with experience,” he said. “But it won’t be easy. Spain are playing really well, and they also have a great manager in Vincente Del Bosque. How do you stop Spain? How can you guarantee that if you play deep and wait for 90 minutes that you will be successful — because they have so much quality someone can score a goal. Or how can you guarantee that if you go and press high you will be successful — because then you leave too much space behind? Spain is a little bit ahead at this moment of everyone. But, in a competition, or in just one game, anything can happen.”
Benitez will be in North London today to watch Arsenal host AC Milan while, in the west of the city, Roberto di Matteo will be continuing his work as caretaker manager at Chelsea with Eddie Newton on the coaching staff. The ex-Blues midfielder played with Di Matteo at the Blues and was his assistant at MK Dons and West Brom.
Meanwhile, former Chelsea boss Luiz Felipe Scolari said of the managerial poisoned chalice at the club: “Villas-Boas was a champion and he will continue to be. He needed to replace at least seven or eight players, even since I was there, but failed. It will be hell for whoever succeeds him.”
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