Full circle: Misantrope’s revival could land Benítez in Paris, Madrid, or Naples

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I’ve never met the man, but over the course of the last six months, Rafa Benítez and I have had a ridiculously rocky relationship. When, seven months ago, he reentered my life, I was still judging him on the past, bitter at the Jim Jones act he’d pulled on all my Liverpool-loving friends. Then he gave me new reason to disdain his present, a throbbing mass of misanthropy pulsating in Roberto Di Matteo’s shoes. Yet as we sit here, on the cusp of world soccer’s silly seat, I’m forced to admit: I can see why another club would give the man a chance.

I wouldn’t have said the same in November. Not that I like going over old ground, but the obvious needs to be reiterated. He was the one that steered Liverpool out of the old Top Four. Inter took a chance on him in the wake of Mourinho, and Benítez was a disaster. By the time Benítez arrived at Stamford Bridge, he was three-and-a-half years removed from his last successful season.

Maybe some of that mojo was at play early on. Chelsea dipped. When he took over, they were within four points of first, but that didn’t last for long. Impressive performances (at home against Aston Villa) were coupled with beguiling failures (at Southampton). Top four became a battle.

That, however, was the Chelsea of winter. Come spring, the Blues looked like a solid squad. Fans might debate whether they were playing to their potential, but the team had at least stabilized. Ultimately, qualifying for Champions League wasn’t a problem, and the club added Europa League.

Now linked linked with a number of job across Europe, Benítez gets to reap the fruits of that revival. If Carlo Ancelotti leaves Paris Saint-Germain, Benítez will be in frame. He’ll be a candidate at Málaga, a job he seems unlikely to take, and whenever there’s an opening at the Bernabeu, Benítez will be linked with Real Madrid. Even in Naples, where Napoli is saying goodbye to Walter Mazzarri, Benítez’s name is being bandied about.

There’s a good discussion to be had as to how much Benítez actually helped Chelsea. You can also debate whether, at this point in his career, Benítez is a good fit for clubs with as many aspirations as Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, or Chelsea. I’m skeptical of both, but the fact that there’s a debate at all speaks to how far Benítez has come in the last three months.

After his first days at Chelsea, Benítez looked like he was writing another disappointing chapter to compelling, confounding career. Now the saga seems ready for a whole new act. Our misanthrope’s not going away any time soon.

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

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A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”

Pogba: Mourinho “made me progress in leadership”

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Paul Pogba says “we are never sure of anything but contractually, it’s sure” that he’ll remain at Manchester United.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from United’s most expensive transfer purchase, as many have linked him with a move away from Old Trafford.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

He also said he’s not worried about his relationship with United boss Jose Mourinho, and pointed out that his problems and growth in Manchester are a natural part of a player’s progression. From Sky Sports:

“There were times where I wasn’t playing, I was on the bench. There was a lot of talk, people thought it wasn’t working out,” Pogba added.

“But a coach and a player don’t have to be best friends, we don’t have to go to restaurants together. I had a few little problems too… football is sometimes all about the mental side. He put me on the bench and I gave my response on the pitch. I always give everything I’ve got.

“He made me progress in leadership. I had the armband with Mourinho, it was the first time in a club, it’s important for me, it makes me grow to be also a leader in the France team.”

In a candid talk, the 25-year-old Pogba was asked about Paris Saint-Germain and told French television that he’d be open to representing the club in the future despite the fact that his parents are Marseille supporters.

Moore takes hold of West Brom’s promotion bid

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Darren Moore‘s spell as West Brom caretaker manager couldn’t quite pull off a miraculous run to Premier League safety, but the promise it contained has helped him to the first chance at earning promotion back to the top flight.

West Bromwich Albion announced Moore as its new manager on Monday, with the boss promising his Baggies would play attractive football while also being a side “that’s willing to fight and scrap for every ball.”

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Moore is also happy to carry a flame for minority coaches — called BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) — in England.

“If it does inspire others, I would be extremely proud,” he said. “I don’t just speak on behalf of BAME coaches but the young, aspiring British coaches across the board.”

Moore, 44, only lost one of his six PL matches as WBA boss, winning three times and inspiring many to wonder what would’ve happened had the Baggies’ pulled the plug on Alan Pardew — and Tony Pulis before him — earlier.

A center back in his playing career, Moore spent 18 seasons between a number of clubs including West Brom, Derby County, and Doncaster Rovers. He won promotion as a player twice with West Brom, and again with Derby.

Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgium left midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of its World Cup squad despite a standout season with Champions League semifinalist Roma.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder. But after being called up for a warm-up game in March against Saudi Arabia, expectations had been that he would be on the 28-man roster announced Monday.

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

On top of the troubled relationship, Nainggolan was also the victim of the unparalleled wealth of talent the small nation has produced over the past few years.

Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all named in the squad, which will be cut to 23 before the World Cup.