Since rebuilding his career with a most unlikely six-month stint at Stamford Bridge, complete with fan angst but also a Europa League trophy, Rafa Benítez has been a manager in demand.
His stops since departing Chelsea to begrudging and muted applause in 2013 have included Napoli, Real Madrid, and Newcastle, where he became a bit of a local legend after earning Premier League promotion in 2017. But not even he could deal with frugal owner Mike Ashley for too long, and last summer jumped ship to the Chinese Super League, where he now gets to personally collect a not insignificant sum of €12m annually.
But his heart (and his family) remain in the North of England — they still live on Merseyside, ever since his days at Liverpool — and unsurprisingly, he would be open to returning to the Premier League. Luckily for him, Newcastle are about to have new owners who would surely see money not only as a way of buying footballing victories but also building some moral and public-relations ones, too.
That’s the story from the Telegraph’s Matt Law who adds that two of the first names on Benítez’s shopping list would be ex-Merseysiders John Stones and Ross Barkley — both at “big” clubs after leaving Everton but both struggling to hold down regular playing time.
While Barkley does have three more years left on his contract, he’s not managed to back up his good intentions and ambitions with consistently good performances, and pulling the plug on that bargain-hunting experiment 2.5 years after his £15m signing would hardly be surprising. With Ruben Loftus-Cheek coming back after a year out with a torn Achilles, the emergence of Mason Mount and Billy Gilmour, the excellence of Mateo Kovačić and, if available, N’Golo Kanté, and the leadership of Lampard-favorite Jorginho, there’s not much room in a crowded midfield for the one-time Everton and England wonderkid who’s failed to live up to those lofty expectations. And that’s before we consider all the other talent coming up through the Academy or potentially available in the transfer market.
Since Chelsea did manage to secure Barkley’s signature for an injury-reduced price of just £15m, we should be able to turn a solid profit even in these pandemic times should Benítez’s interest (and prospect of returning to Newcastle) be for real.