Rafa Benitez has left the door open to a potential return to Newcastle in the future, after saying he expects to return to the UK after his time in China.
The Spaniard is settling into his new job at Dalian Yifang, the club currently sat 10th in the 16-team Chinese Super League.
He took a reported £12 million ($15m) per year deal there after failing to agree a contract extension on Tyneside, where he grew increasingly frustrated at owner Mike Ashley’s refusal to commit to rebuilding the playing squad.
"I expect to do well with Dalian Yifang and after that to come back to the UK,” Benitez said.
"I don’t know when. But you are always happy to come back where people appreciate your effort and commitment – and Newcastle United’s fans have been one of the best in my management career.
"I can only offer them my gratitude. I showed my commitment from day one and they supported me all the time – even when things on the pitch were not going well.
“They supported the team and me. I sincerely hope they can achieve their potential. They deserve the best they can get.”
Benitez has already enjoyed successful stints at three Premier League clubs, with his Champions League win at Liverpool and Europa League triumph during an uncomfortable time as Chelsea boss preceding his Newcastle move.
Intensely popular on Merseyside and Tyneside, it is hard to imagine no English clubs will come in for him when his time in China comes to a close. He signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at Dalian, taking him through to the end of 2022.
But however hopeful Newcastle fans might be of a Rafa return, it seems hugely unlikely that he would re-take the reins with Ashley still in charge at the club.
After dragging his side kicking and screaming from relegation to a top-half Premier League finish, the Spaniard was desperate for investment but a series of false dawns eventually wore down his patience.
Newcastle fans’ moods were soured even further by a clear sign of the end of the Benitez era earlier this week, as Ayoze Perez joined Leicester for £30m ($37.6m).
A Benitez favourite, the forward had enjoyed his best season for the club last campaign with 13 goals in all competitions.