Rafa Benítez is perhaps the only elite manager whose most recent positions have left him unable to compete among European football’s finest. In leaving Newcastle United for Dalian Yifang of the Chinese Super League he left one club content at preserving its Premier League status for another in a developing division.
It was in the early noughties when Benítez established himself as a manager of potentially the highest calibre while twice inspiring Valencia to the Liga title, before he then left for Liverpool, who he led to the unlikeliest of Champions League triumphs. In between periods at Inter Milan and Napoli he oversaw Chelsea winning the Europa League, and briefly worked at Real Madrid before providing Newcastle with the stability they needed to become re-established in the Premier League. For all of his success and the years spent at some of Europe’s leading clubs, however, he remains a relatively divisive, and often under-appreciated, figure in what might otherwise be his defining years in football. “Benítez must be among the top 10 methodical trainers,” said Diego Alonso, his former player at Valencia. “Rafa Benítez is a genius. I was lucky to work with him and I learned a lot.”