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The Spaniard has talked up an Anfield return, however with the club progressing steadily under Brendan Rodgers, Mrunal Nakashe examines why this would not benefit the Reds

With Rafael Benitez almost certain to leave his current position as interim manager at Chelsea at the end of the season, speculation is already rife about the Spanish tactician’s next destination. While his future continues to be uncertain, the man himself has spoken of his desire to remain in the Premier League.

More specifically, Benitez has set his sights on a return to former club Liverpool at some stage in the future. “I will return almost certainly. What I do not know is when,” Benitez told Spanish newspaper Marca, when quizzed on the subject. His words clearly suggest the ex-Reds boss feels he has unfinished business in England’s northeast. But does he truly merit a return to one of his old stomping grounds in the near future?

Benitez made his name at Valencia, winning two league titles in his three-year spell at the Mestalla. As such, he arrived at Anfield to succeed Frenchman Gerard Houllier as a man in demand. However, the Spanish gaffer’s time with the Reds was full of ups and downs.

                                                        Rafael Benitez’s managerial record

        Club

    Games

      Wins

      Draws

      Losses

  Win %

   Valencia

     162

      88

      41  

       33

   54.32 

   Liverpool

     350

      197

      74

       79

   56.29

   Inter

     25

      12

      6

       7

   48.00

   Chelsea

     37

      20

      8

       9

   55.56

The 52-year old could hardly have asked for a better start as Liverpool won the Champions League in his debut season with the club, thanks to a dramatic penalty shootout win over AC Milan in Istanbul. They followed that up with a third placed finish in the league and an FA Cup triumph next year.

He was also credited for signing the likes of Luis Garcia and Xabi Alonso who added quality to the squad and revitalizing the career of Jamie Carragher.

In 2006 Liverpool were bought by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett who heaped praise on the manager following his early success. The club was now expected to challenge for the league title but their campaign fizzled out halfway through the season. He guided the club to another Champions League final, only this time, he would experience a deflating 2-1 defeat to Milan, as the Rossoneri exercised sweet revenge for the events of two years ago.

Ever since the club’s takeover, Benitez was always engaged in a very public spat with the owners demanding greater financial backing in the transfer market. It could be argued that this marked the beginning of the end of his time at Anfield.

 

                                                     Benitez orchastrated his downfall at Liverpool

Liverpool were on top of the the Premier League table leading up to Christmas 2007-08, but the Spaniard’s ill-advised rant against Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson was followed by an inexplicable collapse in the second half of the season, that saw has side surrender the title race to their fiercest rivals.

In seeking to test the might of the owners against his own, Benitez was always fighting a losing battle, even with full backing of supporters. Finally, after a disappointing 7th placed finish in the league in the 2009-10 season, Benitez was shown the door bringing his 6-year long Anfield reign to an unceremonious end.

For all his complaints about the lack of transfer spending, the statistics show that the Spanish tactician lavished over £230 million on player purchases during his time with the Premier League giants. This included the purchase of lethal frontman Fernando Torres from Atletico Madrid. After some shrewd signings in his early years, Benitez broke the bank for some suspect recruits who flopped spectacularly. The list includes the likes of Fernando Morientes, Robbie Keane, Ryan Babel, Scott Carson and Alberto Aquilani who was signed whilst injured.

 Rafa's signings flopped big time

Moreover, his constant tinkering with the starting XI and prioritization of European clashes over domestic league and cup games baffled fans and pundits alike. His biggest downfall was his inability to master the ways of the Premier League that left the Liverpool fans thirsting for a first league title in over 20 years.

Following his exit from English football, Benitez took over the reins at Inter Milan in the summer of 2010, where he replaced the indomitable Jose Mourinho. Given that the Portuguese mastermind had departed after winning the treble, the former Valencia man had a lot to live upto. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, the adventure which began the hope of resurrecting his damaged reputation only served to do further harm, as he was sacked after just six months in-charge, managing to win only 12 of 25 games at the helm in all competitions, though winning the Club World Cup.

                                            The Spaniard's Inter reign was was a disaster                                                     

After this latest debacle Benitez was forced into an enforced hiatus as there seemed to be no takers for his services. That phase lasted nearly two years before the 52-year old took charge at Stamford Bridge in November 2012.

As ‘interim’ manager he was tasked with reversing Chelsea’s sliding season and bringing trophies to West London. Given that Benitez inherited a squad that had undergone major restructuring with nearly £90 million spent in the summer on new players.

                                        Benitez should be doing better with this Chelsea side

Chelsea were third in the table on 24 points from 12 games, four points behind then league leaders Manchester City on his arrival. Nearly five months on, his side are still third, but now a massive 19 points of current table-toppers Manchester United; a scenario that has left them with a fight on their hands to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Under Benitez, the defeats in the Club World Cup final to Corinthians and the League Cup semifinals to Swansea means the FA Cup and the Europa League remain the West London club’s only two avenues for garnering silverware this season.

The two years following Benitez’s Liverpool exit witnessed the return of Kop legend Kenny Dalglish for his second stint as manager, a spell that unfortunately ended up cutting the club further adrift of the competition than closer to it.

The Reds’ current owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have made it clear that they are embarking on a long term project that involves laying the foundations for sustained success in the future, with a far more prudent spending model aimed at keeping the club financially stable, whilst investing sensibly where needed.

Brendan Rodgers has already proven his acumen in the transfer market during his time at Swansea City and he stayed true to that trend in his brief time with the Merseysiders. The 'pass and move' style of football that the Irishman preaches runs contrary to Benitez’s more cagey and conservative approach.

                                             Liverpool are progressing well under Rodgers

It is clear that Liverpool are progressing under Rodgers, albeit gradually. It is also evident that the club is moving forward in the right direction in accordance with a well laid out plan of action. More importantly, it is currently on a path that does not identify with the Spaniard’s football philosophy. 

However, Champions League qualification remains a minimum requirement for the club’s future plans and should Rodgers fail to achieve that in the near future, one should never say never. If and when Benitez does return, he will find that much water has flown under the bridge since he was last there. But for now though, the club seem better off without him. 

 

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Is Benitez  the right man to restore Liverpool to their past glories? Or are the club indeed better off without him? Leave your comments below or get in touch ith the writer on Twitter @MrunalNakashe1

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