Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rafa Wants Job as Chelsea Start Search for Another New Boss; Di Matteo Told of His Sacking by Gourlay and Buck Early This Morning and Spaniard Benitez Is Already Top of Club's Shortlist. by Simon Johnson and James Olley

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rafa Wants Job as Chelsea Start Search for Another New Boss; Di Matteo Told of His Sacking by Gourlay and Buck Early This Morning and Spaniard Benitez Is Already Top of Club's Shortlist. by Simon Johnson and James Olley

Article excerpt

Byline: Simon Johnson and James Olley

RAFAEL BENITEZ today emerged as the front-runner to become the new Chelsea manager after Roberto di Matteo was sacked just six months into his reign.

Di Matteo was axed in the early hours of this morning after Chelsea lost at Juventus, which means they are in danger of failing to qualify for the knockout phase of the Champions League for the first time in their history.

It is believed Chelsea have considered firing Di Matteo for some time and that it was not a knee-jerk reaction to their loss last night or defeat to West Brom in the Premier League on Saturday.

Chelsea are set to announce his replacement in the next 24 hours and Benitez is at the top of their wanted list, with former boss Avram Grant and Harry Redknapp also in the frame.

Benitez was in Abu Dhabi today but is set to return to the UK tonight, having confirmed his interest in the role, even as a caretaker.

Asked whether he has had any contact from Chelsea, Benitez replied: "You asked me directly, I can't answer directly. People are talking in football we'll see what happens."

Chelsea tried to convince the Spaniard to take the job on an interim basis after sacking Andre Villas-Boas last March, but he wanted the position full-time and they turned to Di Matteo instead.

The 52-year-old has been out of work since being sacked by Inter Milan in December 2010 but Chelsea hope he can get the best out of [pounds sterling]50million striker Fernando Torres, as he did after signing him for Liverpool in 2007.

Chelsea's first choice to replace Di Matteo on a long-term basis has always been former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola. They have been in contact with his advisors regularly over the past 18 months and tried to hire him in the summer despite Di Matteo winning the Champions League in May. Chelsea have been in touch again in the past few days but are still facing a difficult task. Guardiola is taking a year sabbatical in New York and has no intention of cutting it short.

He is expected to make a decision on his future in the new year with Manchester City, AC Milan and Bayern Munich also interested in him but Chelsea's sacking of Di Matteo will not help their chances of luring him.

Owner Roman Abramovich has now sacked eight managers since he bought the club in 2003 and the instability is in danger of putting off Guardiola.

Chelsea will not give up hope, though, which is why they are likely to appoint a coach up until the end of the season. Grant, who took the club to their first Champions League Final in 2008, is still close friends with Abramovich, while Redknapp is also a possibility having been sacked by Tottenham in June and the billionaire is an admirer of his style of attacking football.

In May, Di Matteo fulfilled Abramovich's dream as Chelsea won the Champions League for the first time in their history but last night's 3-0 loss puts their hopes of retaining the title in doubt. Di Matteo was sacked when the team arrived back from Turin and Standard Sport understands chief executive Ron Gourlay and chairman Bruce Buck delivered the news on behalf of Abramovich. …

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