Manchester City on alert as Rafael Benitez mulls move back to England

EXCLUSIVE: Rafa’s record in Europe would tick boxes at the Etihad

Ian Herbert
Wednesday 08 April 2015 19:25

Rafa Benitez is considering a return to England next season and another crack at management, a development which would put him in contention to become Manchester City manager if the club decide to replace Manuel Pellegrini this summer.

Benitez is well known to City’s director of football, Txiki Begiristain and, as seems increasingly likely, the Spaniard decides not to accept Napoli’s offer of a contract extension beyond this season, that might make him attractive to City. The club’s 2-1 defeat at Crystal Palace on Monday has put them at risk of being dragged into a battle for the Premier League fourth spot with Liverpool.

Benitez, 54, has maintained his remarkable track record in European competition at Napoli, who resume their Europa League campaign with a quarter-final first leg against Wolfsburg next week, a season after their three-way tie with Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League, in which they were edged out on goal difference.

With the loss against Palace, Manuel Pellegrini's title hopes are all but over

The former Liverpool manager’s family have remained on Merseyside during his two years in Naples, which has always made the prospect of a return to England attractive to him and the North-west particularly so.

City’s chairman, Khaldoon al-Mubarak, faces a quandary as he decides who should take an ageing squad forward. The ideal candidate is Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola, whose football philosophy is precisely what City are looking for, though the Spaniard is unlikely to be available until summer 2016 at the earliest.

After Barcelona inflicted a devastating performance to eliminate City from the Champions League three weeks ago, there existed the prospect of the club continuing with Pellegrini in the short term until Guardiola becomes available. But the Palace defeat compounds the sense that City are going backwards.

Benitez led Liverpool to the Champions League in 2005

Though City would be looking for a manager with the same possession-based philosophy that made Pellegrini attractive, Benitez would be likely to argue that tactics and game management are just as essential as a style of play. It is the lack of tactical acumen which has contributed to the gulf between City and the Continent’s best in three disappointing Champions League campaigns.

Benitez can point to taking Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005, reaching the final again with them two years later and winning the Europa League with Chelsea in 2013 at the end of a tumultuous seven-month spell as interim manager.

Benitez is popular in Napoli, where he is under pressure to extend the two-year deal he signed after leaving Chelsea. The club finished third in their first domestic campaign under him, behind big-spending Juventus and Roma.

Benitez lifting the Europa League at Chelsea

They are sixth in the current campaign and in a close fight with Fiorentina and Sampdoria for Europa League qualification with a squad which has had few expensive reinforcements. Croat Ivan Strinic arrived on a free from Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and Manolo Gabbiadini from Sampdoria this winter after a total outlay of around £10m on four players last summer.

The tempestuous period of Benitez’s reign at Liverpool, when the club was driven close to financial ruin by George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks, has contributed to the Spaniard’s reputation as being political, though his periods at Chelsea and Napoli have not created conflict.

Another option for City would be to promote Patrick Vieira after only two years at the helm of City’s development squad, though that would be a substantial gamble.

Suggestions linking Carlo Ancelotti with the job appear to be a product of the Italian’s desire to leave Real Madrid rather than City pursuing him. Ancelotti’s profile does not include an adherence to the brand of football City are determined to have for their teams. For the same reason, Atletico Madrid’s Diego Simeone is not a target.

City’s defeat at Selhurst Park makes victory in Sunday’s Old Trafford derby even more important. Defeat against Manchester United, taken with a win for fifth-placed Liverpool against Newcastle United on Monday, could narrow the gap between the two to four points, with six games to play and City’s run-in tougher.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in