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Feb 27, 2013

Pellegrini is Chelsea front-runner

Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini has emerged as a leading contender to take over as Chelsea manager after Rafael Benitez confirmed that his time as the club's interim boss is coming to an end.

Benitez said he would leave at the end of the season as he launched a stinging attack on the club's board and fans in a remarkable post-match press briefing following the 2-0 FA Cup win at Middlesbrough on Wednesday.

Former Stamford Bridge boss Avram Grant, who stepped into the breach when Jose Mourinho left Chelsea six years ago, is being widely tipped to take over as Blues boss until the end of the season if Benitez is removed from his position in the coming days, but the Israeli tactician is not believed to be a contender to assume the position on a permanent basis.

Former Real Madrid boss Pellegrini has admirers among the Stamford Bridge hierarchy, and the Chilean's agent, Jesus Martinez, confirmed he has had informal contact with Chelsea in recent days.

"Chelsea and other clubs have asked, but only through intermediaries, nothing official," Martinez told Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. "Manuel would love to coach in the English Premier League, as he would in Germany, Italy and other important leagues.

"Manuel has a contract with Malaga. I think that, in April and May, we will be clear about what will happen with his future.

"Our first intention is to respect our commitment to Malaga, but it also depends on what the conditions are. We had a formal offer from Roma, but we rejected it. It was less than 15 days ago, but we discarded it outright because we are in the middle of the season."

At a press conference four days ago, Pellegrini said he "does not care about the Chelsea rumours" and his mind "is only on Malaga" as rumours circulated that a deal to bring the ex-Villarreal boss to west London may already have been agreed.

Chelsea's desire to appoint an experienced coach with experience of top-level European competition would appear to have dampened speculation that ex-Blues hero and current Brighton boss Gus Poyet is in the running to make a Stamford Bridge return.

Everton chief David Moyes and Swansea's Capital One Cup winning-manager Michael Laudrup are also among those in the betting odds in the aftermath of Benitez's outburst.

Jose Mourinho has been the bookies' favourite to secure an emotional return to Stamford Bridge all season, but former Chelsea coach Ray Wilkins is among many who believes Roman Abramovich would never sanction a return for the man who won six trophies during his three-year stint as boss.

"I'd love to see Jose back and so would the fans," Wilkins said last month. "The Premier League needs characters like him and he's a big man for a big job, but there's too much past history between him and the owner at Chelsea. There would be a conflict there straight away."

It seems inevitable that Chelsea will need to appoint their third manager of this season following Benitez's remarks, with few expecting the Spaniard to still be in charge for Saturday's Premier League game against West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge.

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