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Rafa Benitez: The legendary Spanish manager's five best moments

Rafa Benitez
Will Rafa return to St James' Park?

As rumours rumble about a return to Newcastle for Rafa Benitez, Max Liu picks five great moments from the his career at Liverpool, Newcastle and elsewhere...

"Benitez brought Newcastle straight back into the top flight and kept them there for the next two seasons with minimal funds to spend on players. As a result of which Newcastle fans love Benitez and would be over the moon if he were to return."

Rafa Benitez turned 60 on Thursday, which is no age for a manager, as the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Bobby Robson and Arsene Wenger have all proved over the years. There will be plenty of fans on Tyneside, Merseyside and beyond raising a glass to the Spaniard, especially as rumours circulate about a potential return to the Premier League.

Benitez, who is currently in charge of Chinese club Dalian Pro, is 11/4 to return to Newcastle as their next permanent manager.

Mike Ashley is reportedly on the verge of selling the club to a group of investors backed by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund. If the deal goes through then Newcastle could look to appoint a big name manager soon and Benitez would be top of many Toon fans' lists. In the meantime, here are five of his best moments.

Valencia win first title for more than 30 years

Benitez wasn't Valencia's first choice for the manager's job in 2001. He'd done decent work at Tenerife, among others, but his CV was mixed to say the least, with disappointing spells at Real Valladolid and Osasuna.

However, Benitez quickly won over fans with his attacking style of play and, in his first season, he stunned Spanish football by guiding Los Ches to their first La Liga title for more than 30 years. Barcelona and Real Madrid finished the season with their noses well and truly out of joint, in fourth and third respectively.

Benitez outwits Mourinho - Champions League 2005

Benitez had many duels with Jose Mourinho and, if the Spaniard returns to the Premier League, they will probably have more. It all goes back to the first Champions League clash between the two as managers of Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.

The Blues were strolling to the Premier League title and Mourinho had won the Champions League the previous season with Porto. He was determined to pull off a double with his new club. Against the odds, however, Liverpool shut out Didier Drogba et al in the first leg at Stamford Bridge. In the second, the Reds went 1-0 up through Luis Garcia. Chelsea claimed the ball didn't cross the line but the goal stood and Jamie Carragher and co. at the back held out all the way to full-time.

Mourinho v Benitez 2005.jpg

The miracle of Istanbul - Champions League 2005

A minute into their first Champions League final for 20 years Liverpool found themselves a goal down to AC Milan. It got worse with a Hernan Crespo brace making it 3-0 at half-time. Benitez brought on Dietmar Hamann and switched to a 3-5-2 formation, which allowed Steven Gerrard to play in a more advance role, and 15 minutes later they were level thanks to goals from Garrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso.

Gerrard and Benitez 2005.jpg

The match went to penalties, Milan missed three of their five and Jerzy Dudek making the decisive save from Andrei Shevchenko to land Liverpool European football's biggest prize for the fifth time in their history. That they had done it in Benitez's first season felt all the more remarkable.

Winning over Chelsea naysayers - Europa League 2012

Benitez endured a short and ignominious reign at Inter Milan in 2010 before spending more than a year out of the game. He took over as Chelsea's interim boss in November 2012 following the sacking of Roberto di Matteo. Benitez was a surprising choice for the job, not least because his duels with Mourhino had made the Spaniard unpopular with Blues fans, and he was booed by home fans at his first game in charge at the Bridge. All was gradually forgiven, however, as Benitez turned around the team's fortunes in the league, guiding them to a third place finish. He secured his place in Chelsea history - if not an extension to his interim manager's contract - when they beat Benfica 2-1 in the Europa League final.

Driving force of Newcastle - 2016-2019

Benitez found himself out of work in early 2016 after the notoriously impatient Real Madrid board issued his P45. At the same time, Newcastle were drifting towards relegation from the English Premier League thanks to chronic under-investment and a string of underwhelming managerial appointments. Then the Magpies board pulled off a coup by bringing in Benitez.

The fans were thrilled and, although the club went down at the end of the season, everybody recognised that the damage had been done before the new boss's arrival. More surprising was that Benitez stayed on the following season, bringing Newcastle straight back into the top flight and keeping them there for the next two seasons with minimal funds to spend on players. As a result of which Newcastle fans love Benitez and would be over the moon if he were to return under new owners.

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