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Sep 17, 2009

Rafa Benitez: Out. Jose Mourinho: In?

What are the odds on that earth-shattering scenario to shake up the whole of football, let alone Anfield? Maybe pretty long odds, I would suspect. For the moment.

For me, this is a distinct possibility. This bombshell might not be quite as farfetched as it sounds. Let me explain. Rather let me light the blue touch paper and retreat to safety!

Liverpool are desperate to break Manchester United's stranglehold on the League title, which was once the private domain of Anfield. And patience is wearing thin with Rafa Benitez to deliver. Sir Alex Ferguson's dominance in the domestic league is something that has become far more than a mere irritation; it has become the club's Holy Grail.

Last season, with Fernando Torres looking to be Benitez's best buy by a long way, the club came so tantalisingly close. This season they were heavily favoured by pundits and by their own fans, as finally being in a position to mount a realistic challenge and eventually take the championship crown. Two early defeats have badly deflated such high expectations. Patience with Benitez is even thinner.

Failure to win at West Ham United on Saturday, in yet another massive ESPN live Premier League game to follow the thoroughly entertaining Spurs-Manchester United event, would heap enormous pressure on the manager. Patience with Benitez will be at an all-time low ebb.

And, if the pressure doesn't reach fever pitch at Upton Park should Liverpool win, then it could easily occur if Liverpool lose touch with the leaders at any stage in the near future.

At the moment Chelsea and Manchester City are setting the pace as both have 100% records. City's credentials will be tested to the limit in the Manchester derby, so it's Liverpool's big chance in East London to close the gap. Benitez dare not fail in this task.

The Champions League has been Benitez's field of expertise, and, indeed, saving grace, but it is the domestic title that their fans now crave above all else. Strange, because, it is the opposite at a club like Chelsea, who would dearly love to be taken seriously as one of Europe's elite by winning the Champions League. Don't get me wrong, their fans want to win the league as well, but the clubs priority is to finish at the summit of Europe.

Jose Mourinho delivered back-to-back titles, but never quite conquered the Liverpool hurdle in Europe. Mourinho's mission at Inter is to deliver the Champions League having won the league title in his first season. Any failure in Europe might be hard for Mourinho and Inter to accept, which might make his tenure in Italy far less secure.

Now, if Mourinho was returning to the Premier League, there would be two likely destinations, Old Trafford, or... Anfield.

There has been plenty of speculation that United's American owners would covet Mourinho the day Sir Alex opted to retire. But that might not be for another couple of seasons, and while Sir Alex likes the Portuguese coach and would not object to him taking over his mantle, Mourinho might feel uncomfortable with that, and he would surely wish to retain Sir Alex in some sort of advisory role.

However, there would be no hesitation on Mourinho's part on ousting Benitez. They never really got on during their conflicts in England and abroad when Mourinho was boss at Stamford Bridge. And Mourinho loves the Liverpool heritage, and would put them on his potential wish list for a return to English football.

I believe it is inevitable Mourinho will return. And, it will only be at a club that matches his ego in terms of size and paying power. The only club likely to challenge Liverpool for Mourinho's services, would be big spending Manchester City.

But they will stick with Mark Hughes, while they continue to be successful and Hughes has got off to a flyer this season with all his new signings in place, and more to come in the January transfer window.

So, logically, it is Mourinho for Anfield if Benitez fouls up in the Premier League this season, and already he hasn't made a very auspicious start.

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