Controversial Benitez shows up in Liverpool

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The bizarre saga of Rafa Benitez and Inter Milan is soccer’s most compelling current soap opera, and the most outrageous plot twist of all could be yet to come.

Benitez was fired by Inter on Wednesday after a series of disputes came to a head last weekend, when he criticized owner Massimo Moratti in a public rant. Inter sent Benitez a message on Monday to inform him his actions were a breach of contract.

While the storm of acrimony swirled, Benitez took the extraordinary step of uprooting himself from Milan and returning to his former home in Liverpool. Benitez was fired as Liverpool boss at the end of last season, and there is no coincidence about the timing or location of the place he sought sanctuary from the controversy brewing in Italy.

With Liverpool having endured a desperate start to the season under new head coach Roy Hodgson, Benitez would love to return to the Anfield hot-seat if the Englishman was sacked. By arriving on the doorstep, it turns up the heat on Hodgson even more.

“It would be surprising,” said Hodgson, when asked if he saw Benitez as a threat to his position. “If he was the right man, then it would have been wiser not to let him go and then bring him back six months later.

“This job will always have people linked with it. When you occupy one of the top jobs in the country, it would be very strange if other people were not linked with your job. I’m sure there are people who are very envious of my position.”

But perhaps Hodgson has more to worry about than he thinks. It didn’t take long for word to get out that Benitez was in town, and banners begging the Spaniard to return to Anfield soon sprung up both outside the club and his own home.

Polls of Liverpool fans expressed strong support for a Benitez comeback, even though he only left six months ago following a deeply disappointing campaign.

This has truly become an extraordinary situation. Benitez’s anti-Moratti rant was incredible and, according to some, utterly crazy. Turning up at Liverpool is shameless and unfair on Hodgson, who is suffering through some desperately tough times.

Make no mistake, Benitez is making a symbolic move by heading back to the north-west of England. He isn’t there for the weather (currently under a heavy blanket of snow) or for the peace and quiet. He wants his old job back.

Liverpool spent the early part of the season in crisis, and even dipped briefly into the relegation zone before rebounding slightly to sit in ninth place in the English Premier League. Hodgson has found it tough to win over the Liverpool fans, and some of his signings (especially defender Paul Konchesky) have not gone down well.

That situation doesn’t mean Benitez is going to waltz straight back through the Anfield doors, but that hasn’t stopped the rumor mill from cranking into overdrive.

More twists to come? Don’t bet against it.