Benitez back in Premier League fold with Chelsea

52-year-old Spaniard replaces sacked Di Matteo

Rafael Benitez, who returned to the English Premier League management fold on Wednesday after replacing Roberto di Matteo at Chelsea, has at least one thing in common with his Stamford Bridge predecessor.

Namely, a nailbiting Champions League triumph which proved the high watermark of his reign before a parting of the ways.

The difference between the two was that Benitez's fall from grace. after his peak in 2005 when Liverpool came from three goals down to beat AC Milan on penalties, came in slow motion.

It was only in 2010 that the 52-year-old Spaniard left Anfield by "mutual consent" after a disappointing seventh place finish in the league and an exit at the group stage of the Champions League - three years on from a second final when the the Milanese exacted revenge.

The man who had earlier led Valencia to two Liga crowns and the UEFA Cup fell out with club officials both with the Spaniards then Liverpool over funds for the transfer kitty - at Valencia he famously said "I asked for a table and they bought me a lampshade."

However, in his latter years at Liverpool some of his signings did not shine brightly enough to require a lampshade and missing out on Champions League qualification in his final year was too much for the Anfield hierarchy, who have yet to see the Merseysiders return to Europe's top table.

After Anfield, it was off to Inter Milan to step into the oversized shoes of one Jose Mourinho, who had just ended a four-decade drought by winning the Champions League - something Benitez himself had been instrumental in preventing the Portuguese from doing while the latter was at Chelsea.

At Inter, Benitez's story becomes once again curiously intertwined with di Matteo's - in half a season at San Siro the Spaniard, who had had to deal with Liverpool's then new American owners sounding out Jurgen Klinsmann behind his back, won the Italian Super Cup and the World Club Cup.

Days after the latter triumph and he was out of the door after - true to previous form - demanding money for new signings to overhaul Mourinho's European champions.

Two days before Christmas, his Italian adventure was over after barely six months.

That compares with Di Matteo's being told to clear his desk at Stamford Bridge hours after Tuesday's loss to Juventus left the Blues facing the ignominy of being the first Champions League winners to exit at the group stage the following season.

Di Matteo was afforded just over eight months in charge after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, first in an interim capacity, last March.

In those months the Italian, backed by fans who already had fond memories of him as a player, landed two far bigger trophies than Benitez did with Inter - Chelsea's first European Cup, which Mourinho himself did not manage, as well as an FA Cup.

Yet that was not enough for owner Roman Abramovich, who quickly pulled the trigger.

The question for Benitez, as he becomes the ninth coach of Roman's reign - in only as many years - must surely be: does Chelsea's Russian owner have another bullet in the chamber and how long until the next round of Russian roulette, London style?

The answer may well depend on Benitez's ability to rekindle the flame with Fernando Torres, the man he brought to Liverpool before leaving six months before the player's sale for 50 million pounds.

The striker has patently yet to justify that fee in Chelsea blue, to the extent di Matteo dropped him on Tuesday - a brave call which, along with a month's wretched form by the tean as a whole, helped cost the Italian his job.

Factfile on Rafael Benitez after the Spaniard's appointment as Chelsea interim manager on Wednesday following the sacking of roberto di Matteo:

Born: April 4, 1960
Birthplace: Madrid

1986: After retiring as a player, appointed to Real Madrid's coaching staff, starting off with the juniors and working up to the Under-19s.

1994: Leads Real Madrid's B team to seventh in Spain's Second Division and ends the season as assistant to first-team coach Vicente del Bosque.

1995: Appointed coach of Valladolid but sacked after 23 games with the team bottom of the Primera Liga.

1996: Takes over at Osasuna in Second Division, but lasts just nine games after recording one win.

1997: Joins Second Division outfit Extremadura and leads them to promotion.

1999: Extremadura relegated from top flight after a play-off defeat to Villarreal.

1999-2000: Quits Extremadura to take a year's sabbatical to study coaching in Italy and England.

2000: Appointed boss of Second Division Tenerife and leads them to promotion.

2001: Replaces Hector Cuper at Valencia and leads the club to their first Primera Liga title in 31 years.

2004: Leads Valencia to their first ever double, lifting both the Primera Liga and the UEFA Cup before joining Liverpool on five-year contract.

2005: Wins Champions League in his first season as Liverpool come from 3-0 down to beat AC Milan on penalties in Istanbul.

2007: Reaches the Champions League final for the second time in three seasons but Liverpool lose to AC Milan in Athens.

2009: Comes under pressure after a run of six defeats in seven games in all competitions, which included an exit from the Champions League at the group stage.


June 3
Liverpool are dumped out of the FA Cup following a 2-1 third-round replay at home to Championship strugglers Reading. A goalless draw on the final day at relegated Hull confirms Liverpool finish the Premier League season in seventh - their worst position since 1999. Benitez leaves his job as Liverpool manager by mutual consent.

June 10
Appointed Inter Milan manager, replacing the Real Madrid-bound Jose Mourinho. Won the Italian Super Cup and FIFA World Cup. Sacked in December after a clash over transfer funds.

2012 - Nov 21
Returns to management as Chelsea's interim manager following the sacking of Roberto di Matteo

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