Newcastle United boss is linked with a shock return to Chelsea

Rafa Benitez has emerged as a potential candidate to replace Juventus-bound Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea.
Rafa Benitez.Rafa Benitez.
Rafa Benitez.

Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is waiting for Benitez, out of contract on June 30, to make a decision on a new contract at St James’s Park.

Benitez met Ashley for talks in London last month, but he is yet to make a decision, despite a longer stay at the club being his stated preference.

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When the 59-year-old met Ashley he wanted to know that he would have the funds – and the autonomy in the transfer market – that he feels he needs to take the club in the “right direction”, having had to sell to buy last summer after failing to agree a new deal.

Benitez’s appearance at the club’s training ground on Monday was seen as encouraging by some fans. However, Benitez – who guided Chelsea to the Europa League in 2013 – has since been linked with a return to Stamford Bridge.

Benitez and his representatives have been considering Ashley’s offer – and other potential jobs in England and overseas.

Speaking late last month, Benitez said: “I’m open to new possibilities. I don’t know what will happen over the next couple of months.”

Newcastle have refused to comment on Beintez’s future.

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Sarri, meanwhile, is expected to join Juventus just weeks after guiding Chelsea to the Europa League, and the club is looking at potential successors.

Benitez left on good terms, though he wasn’t universally popular with the club’s fans despite leading them to a European title. The Spaniard left the club after just six months to take charge of Napoli.

Owner Roman Abramovich is considering his options ahead of Sarri’s likely exit.

If Chelsea’s appeal against their transfer ban fails, the club’s next manager will have to improve the current squad. Benitez, crucially, is one of European football’s most respected coaches.

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Former Chelsea midfielder Frank Lampard, now in charge of Derby County, is the odds-on favourite with bookmakers to succeed Sarri at Stamford Bridge, though Benitez’s odds have shortened to 4/1 over the past 24 hours.