Forget Chelsea - Rafa Benitez is the big winner

Rafa Benitez 3

Chelsea won the Europa League last night, but their manager is the one who will have the biggest smile on his face.

If anybody wanted to win the Europa League, it was Rafa Benitez.

He was hugely unlucky in that when he took over the Chelsea job with the fateful title of 'interim manager' back in the Autumn, that the Blues were more or less eliminated from the Champions League.

Despite helping the Blues win a simple home game against FC Nordsjaelland, results elsewhere confirmed their elimination, and they were 'condemned' to the Europa League.

And while it was the competition which no Chelsea player wanted to play in, by time the club had eased through to the quarter-finals, the squad clearly started to take an interest.

By winning it last night, nobody saw their reputation enhanced more so than Rafa Benitez.

He was the manager no Chelsea fan wanted, nor could explain. At least the official explanation was his record as a Champions League winner, FA Cup winner, and La Liga champion.

For a manager who had been out of the game since leaving Liverpool in 2010, the Chelsea job was an ideal one, and although only on a short-term basis he has come out smelling of roses.

At one stage it appeared as though it could be an unmitigated disaster. In January he had not only missed out on the FIFA World Club Cup, and seen Chelsea eliminated from the League Cup at the semi-final stage by Swansea.

They were slipping away in the league, and only a 2-1 win over Arsenal steadied the ship when it appeared they may even fall out of the top four.

Now a top four finish is all but secured, and while an FA Cup semi-final victory was beyond their grasp, he did get one over old foe Sir Alex Ferguson along the way, in fact in three meeting between Benitez' Chelsea and Fergie's United, the outgoing Scotsman did not win a single one.

If that gave Benitez satisfaction, the win against Benfica will have been the cherry on the top.

Disaster was officially averted, and Benitez' mid-season rant will be seen in retrospect as the manager standing up for himself, and winning the respect of his players rather than 'cracking' under pressure.

He is now among the most wanted managers in Europe, with Napoli the latest club to be linked with him in the past few days, and even the odds have been cut on him joining old rivals Everton. Even Real Madrid or PSG are possibilities.

It's hard to say what the future holds for Benitez, but after his last failed management spell at Inter Milan, and the way he bowed out at Liverpool, his CV is now boosted, refreshed, and ready even to try to emulate his 2005 success.

Where do you think Benitez will be managing next season?

image: © Doha Stadium Plus

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