Unsurprisingly, this morning’s back pages have been dominated by the news that Rafael Benitez is set to exit Liverpool after six years at the Merseyside club. Following a season of unrest and disappointment, the club’s board are thought to have offered the Spaniard a lucrative severance package in order to entice Benitez to depart Anfield just one year into a five-year contract. Although Benitez has been a divisive figure amongst Reds fans for some time, there does not appear to be a definitively clear cut replacement to fill the shoes of the former Valencia manager. The following five candidates are all thought to be in the running to fill the soon-to-be-vacant Anfield hot-seat:
The bookmakers favourite, Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill is the man thought to be in pole position to become the next Liverpool manager. The 58-year-old has admirably led his side to sixth place for the past seasons, but having failed to break into the top four in his four years at Villa Park, O’Neill may feel that he has taken the club as far as he can. A move to Liverpool would represent an upwards career move for the Northern Irishman, who may relish the task of returning Liverpool to the summit of English football after 20 years without a league title.
Warring words with Benitez in the summer of 2008 over the Anfield side’s (failed) pursuit of then-Villa skipper Gareth Barry do not seem to have quelled suggestions that O’Neill will eventually move to Merseyside. Despite rumours of strained relations with Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner, the American owner recently told the Birmingham Mail that “Liverpool are not taking Martin O’Neill away from Aston Villa as far as I’m concerned.” Would Lerner be able to prevent his manager from resisting the advances of Liverpool should the Anfield side come knocking?
Responsible for the remarkable turnaround in Fulham’s fortunes since the end of 2007, it is no surprise to hear Roy Hodgson mentioned as a replacement for Rafael Benitez. Within 3 seasons, Hodgson has saved Fulham from relegation and taken the unfancied west London side to a Europa League final. The vastly experienced 62-year-old, who was recently named LMA Manager of the Year, has fuelled conjecture that he would be receptive to a switch to Merseyside, having told BBC Sport that, “If the day comes when a so-called big club wants me and I’m available, I’d be happy to do it.”
The only major doubts over Hodgson that persist concern his age; at 62, Hodgson is no spring chicken and the club are likely to seek a manager who can commit to the club for at least five years. However, should Hodgson be able to mirror the career longevity of Sir Alex Ferguson, this will become an insignificant issue.
This summer will not mark the first time that former Spurs legend Jurgen Klinsmann has been touted for the Liverpool hot-seat. The Anfield side’s American owners first angered the club’s fans after news leaked in early 2008 that the pair had secretly attempted to woo Klinsmann to Merseyside behind Benitez’s back. Shortly afterwards Klinsmann was named as manager of Bayern Munich, with the German side’s official website later revealing that “There was a detailed proposal made to Jurgen by Liverpool.”
Despite leading the German national team to third place in the 2006 World Cup, reservations exist over Klinsmann’s managerial abilities. Klinsmann’s one attempt at club management (Bayern Munich) dismally failed, and his success with Germany is frequently attributed to the work of his assistant (and current Germany coach) Joachim Loew.
Affectionately referred to as ‘King Kenny’ by Liverpool fans, bookmakers are suggesting that the former Scotland international may take up the Anfield reins for the second time in his distinguished career. Voted number one in the ‘100 Players Who Shook the Kop’, Dalglish is a bona fide Liverpool legend. Recently brought back to the club in an ambassadorial role, Dalgish won three league titles in his first stint as Liverpool manager between 1985 and 1991.
Strongly tipped to fill the hot-seat in an interim capacity, many have questioned whether or not Dalglish will be able to manage in the modern game. Dalglish, who also won the league title with Blackburn Rovers in 1995, last managed at the top level at Celtic in 2000. Critics have also warned Dalglish about the prospect of tarnishing his Anfield reputation, having seen former midfielder Graeme Souness taint his relationship with the club’s fans after a torrid spell as Liverpool manager in the early ‘90s. Having said that, Dalglish is a smart man who knows and loves the club like no other, and would therefore be a great contender to steady the ‘sinking ship’.
Despite having accepted an offer to coach the Turkish national side from the end of June, bookmakers still believe that Dutchman Guus Hiddink could be offered the chance to replace Rafael Benitez. Following an incredibly distinguished career at both club and international level, Hiddink would be a popular choice amongst Liverpool fans. The outgoing Russia manager led Dutch side PSV Eindhoven to six domestic league titles and one European Cup, as well as infamously guiding minnows South Korea to fourth place at the 2002 World Cup.
Hiddink capably showed his capacity to manage in the Premier League, having taking Chelsea to within one kick of the Champions League final during 2008/09, with the Dutchman’s ability to galvanise a squad that ‘failed’ under Luiz Felipe Scolari impressively demonstrating his stellar man-management credentials. Hiddink is one of the most respected coaches in world football and would be a superb candidate to replace Rafael Benitez.