Benitez’s interim spell in charge of Chelsea is ending on a high after the Spaniard’s team beat Benfica 2-1 on Wednesday to win the Europa League.
After inheriting a team short on confidence after their embarrassing early exit from the Champions League, Benitez leaves Chelsea in a healthy state despite having had to endure taunts from Blues supporters during his six-month reign.
Jose Mourinho, who is expected to leave Real Madrid, is the overwhelming favourite to replace Benitez, and looks set to have plenty of money at his disposal if he returns to the club where he enjoyed so much success from 2004 to 2007.
“Chelsea will be much better next season because they will spend £100m and they will sign three or four players,” Benitez told Spanish radio station Onda Cero. “They have good young players like [Victor] Moses, [Eden] Hazard, Oscar, [Cesar] Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Fernando Torres, Oriol [Romeu], they are all improving and they all have potential. The foundation is already there. The future is bright for them.”
Speculation has intensified that Mourinho will go back to Chelsea after he declared that he wanted to manage at a club where he “is loved” following a turbulent two-year spell in Spain. Right-back Paulo Ferreira was one of the players Mourinho recruited following his appointment as Chelsea boss nine years ago. The 34-year-old, who also worked with Mourinho at Porto, thinks everyone at Chelsea wants to see the charismatic coach return.
“It’s not just me, I think everyone [wants to see him come back],” Ferreira said. “This means titles and that is what the club wants. Nothing is better than him.”
Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech thinks Mourinho’s return is almost inevitable. “There is a big probability that it can be Jose,” he said. “He has a fantastic history with the club, the supporters love him, and he would be good for the players, obviously.”
Despite all the clamour for Mourinho’s second coming at Stamford Bridge, the Chelsea players are by no means eager to see the back of Benitez. It looked as if his appointment as interim manager had been a mistake when he failed to win his first three matches, but the Spaniard has restored calm and consistency to the squad amid a backdrop of strong criticism which sometimes boiled over into hate.
“Rafa Out” banners and signs branding Benitez as a “fat Spanish waiter” were often seen during the opening stages of the 53-year-old’s reign due to his association with the club’s rivals, Liverpool.
To lambast a man who has won two Spanish leagues and a Champions League trophy in such a way was too much for Ferreira. “A lot of supporters have not been fair with him, and sometimes I think they should think more about the team than the manager,” he said. “He has given his best even though he knows he is going to leave at the end of the season.”
Benitez is expected to join Chelsea’s players in a lap of honour following their last game of the season at home to Everton on Sunday.
When asked whether the fans owe Benitez a thank you, Ferreira said: “I think they should. He gave a trophy to the club so he has credit for that.”
David Luiz revealed that Benitez drove Chelsea to victory in Amsterdam with an inspirational half-time team talk.
“He changed some positions, he told us ‘if you want to win this competition you need to change’ because the guys were too slow. That’s why we won. Everything [is down to him],” the Brazilian said.