x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rafa Benitez manages to go out on top at Chelsea

Europa League victory has enhanced Spaniard's reputation after torrid spell at Chelsea.

Chelsea's Spanish interim manager Rafael Benitez.
Chelsea's Spanish interim manager Rafael Benitez.

And so, confounding every expectation apart from his own, there is a happy ending. Rafa Benitez departs Stamford Bridge rehabilitated and with his reputation enhanced. He has succeeded in the most demanding of circumstances, steering Chelsea to third place in the Premier League and a trophy for winning the Europa League, despite a backdrop of hostility.

There was belated appreciation for the Spaniard in Sunday's 2-1 win over Everton, though not as much as he deserved. But then, Benitez's belief in his abilities means he does not always require outside approval, anyway. What he does need is a job.

Lest it be forgotten, he was out of work for almost two years before taking up his interim appointment at Chelsea. After a terrible final season in his otherwise successful spell at Liverpool and his brief, ill-fated stint at Inter Milan, he no longer topped the shortlists for employment at elite clubs.

Benitez did not want to lower himself to mid-table outfits.

His performance at Chelsea explains his obstinacy. He remains a manager capable of operating at the highest level.

His preference is to remain in England. Yet, busy as the managerial merry-go-round appears this summer, it has stopped at the wrong places for Benitez.

Two of the vacancies created were at Manchester United and Everton, clubs he could not manage. Chelsea had turned their thoughts to Jose Mourinho before a belated thaw in the fans' relationship with Benitez. Manchester City may have suited him, but they seem to prefer Manuel Pellegrini.

The consolation is that, having again proven himself a winner, opportunities abroad could be more plentiful.

During his six years at Anfield, Benitez rebuffed Real Madrid four times, despite growing up a supporter of theirs. If there will not be a fifth offer this summer, he may benefit indirectly.

With Carlo Ancelotti leaving Paris St Germain - with his presumed destination, Madrid - there is a vacancy at one of the world's wealthiest clubs.

There are others in Ancelotti's homeland. Walter Mazzarri has confirmed his time at Napoli is up and Massimiliano Allegri's reign at AC Milan may also be over. Both clubs are in next season's Uefa Champions League and Benitez is at his best in European competition.

While he and Inter were a mismatch, his tactical approach indicates he ought to suit Italian football.

And so, while Benitez knows not where the future will take him, it should not revolve around his website and iPad apps. As he has proved, he should be managing, and somewhere, he surely will be next season.