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Would Rafa Benitez Really Return to Liverpool?

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Rafa Benitez has a contract in Italy that's running down. Brendan Rodgers' seat is starting to heat up at Liverpool. That's lead to some depressingly predictable speculation.

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Many Liverpool fans have nothing but warm feelings for Rafa Benitez. In fact, the last time the manager's post was open at Anfield, there was a not-small movement to bring him back to the club as he was available at the time. Now, with growing fan dissatisfaction over the job Brendan Rodgers is doing and with Rafa's contract running down at Napoli, speculation is mounting that Rafa could return to Liverpool next season.

That speculation has been fueled by recent interviews in which Rafa emphasized how important his family is to him and that he misses them when he's in Italy. His wife and daughters still live in Liverpool, and during just about every international break he heads back to England to spend a few days with them. That lead to the theory that Rafa doesn't want to stay in Italy past his current contract, which expires after this season, and that he wants to come back to Liverpool.

While those general details make sense, once you start picking at them, it falls apart in a hurry. The English media that's been harping on this story are ignoring several vital details to this story, most importantly that Rafa and Napoli are in the middle of contract negotiations to keep him in Naples past this season. While a deal obviously has not been finalized yet, if you trust Italian sources with a good track record in Napoli-related matters, it does sound as though the deal is just a few technical details away from completion, and that the major points have been hammered out already. The deal could be signed as soon as next month, when Napoli take on Juventus in the Supercoppa Italia right before Christmas.

Even past that, though, there's been no sign that Rafa actually wants to leave Napoli, or that he would return to Liverpool even if he did. At his current job, he's done nothing but express how happy he's been with the progress the club has made, and it seems as though he's eager to continue to guide the club onward and upward.

In the eventuality that he does leave, though, Rafa's had his eyes on another job: the Spanish national team. He's talked about the possibility of taking that job numerous times over the last couple of years, and it's a fit that makes sense for Rafa. His tactical style is one that traditionally plays well at the international level, he'd have absolute control over everything about the setup from top to bottom, and given the more periodic nature of the national team schedule, he'd have plenty of time to spend with his family.

"But why not manage Liverpool and be with his family year 'round" you ask. This part is purely conjecture, but bear with me: Rafa has never seemed like the type to repeat a challenge. He's done his schtick at Liverpool, and there's not much reason to come back, or any significantly different challenge for him here. He's the kind of guy who relishes in finding new challenges, new projects, and Liverpool doesn't give him that. If he was willing to go back to somewhere he's been before, he probably  would have gone back to Valencia years ago.

Liverpool is a club that will always be close to Rafa's heart. He's made the city his home, and never has anything but good things to say about the team. But if you expect to see Rafa patrolling the technical area at Anfield again... well, you probably shouldn't start holding your breath any time soon.