Managers are always under the microscope in CL
Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Success in the Champions League has done wonders for the careers of a few managers around Europe - just ask Liverpool's Rafael Benitez.
The Spaniard took over at Anfield in 2004, and in the four years prior to this campaign, never seriously contended for the league title. His teams have finished no higher than third since his arrival, yet he is held in very high regard by the Reds.
Benitez led Liverpool on a magical run to the 2005 Champions League final in his first season, as the club overcame a three-goal deficit at halftime to down AC Milan on penalty kicks.
The Reds returned to the final of the world's most prestigious club competition in 2007, where they lost to Milan, and last season Benitez had Liverpool in the semifinals before bowing out to Chelsea.
The team's overwhelming success in Europe has no doubt played a big part in Benitez being offered a contract extension by the club's American owners, George Gillett and Tom Hicks.
However, Benitez has reportedly turned down those offers and appears intent on coaching at a new club next season, with Liverpool's Round of 16 opponents, Real Madrid, looking like a real possibility.
Liverpool's Rafael Benitez could wind up coaching Real Madrid next season.
Success in Europe is almost a birthright at Madrid, but it is something that has been in short supply in recent years.
The club captured the first five European Cup titles and has won the competition nine times in all, but since their last title in 2002, Madrid has yet to return to the biggest stage.
In fact, 2004 was the last time that Real has advanced past the Round of 16, losing the last four years in the first knockout round.
If that is to happen again this year at the hands of Benitez and his Liverpool team, you can bet that manager Juande Ramos will not be counting on an extension to his current contract, which runs only until the end of the year.
Ramos took over for Bernd Schuster in December with Madrid struggling in La Liga, but the fact that he was only signed until the end of the season is reason enough to believe that he is not in Madrid's long-term plans.
A loss to the Reds would all but seal his fate, regardless of whether or not Real is able to catch Barcelona in the league, and who better to take over at the club than Benitez?
The Liverpool boss has already enjoyed success in Europe with a Spanish team, winning the UEFA Cup at Valencia, and if he is given enough say over player personnel - which seems to be an issue at Liverpool - Benitez would jump at the opportunity.
Roberto Mancini is the absolute opposite of Benitez, in that all he did was win in domestic competition while failing in Europe.
While under the direction of Mancini, Inter Milan won three successive Serie A titles, as well as two Coppa Italia crowns, but he was unable to navigate the team past the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
He announced that he would step down after Inter was bounced from the competition in the Round of 16 by Liverpool last season, but finished out the year and delivered another Scudetto before being let go.
The man who replaced Mancini, Jose Mourinho, will be under very close watch when his team takes on defending champions Manchester United.
Mourinho was never able to take Chelsea to the final, and although he has Inter on course for another league title, he will be expected to do a bit more in Europe than did Mancini.
The Nerazzurri is another European heavyweight that has underachieved in the competition in recent years, and when you add the fact that bitter rivals AC Milan have reached three finals in the last six years, the pressure will be on Mourinho to deliver.
The "Special One" has already expressed his desire to return to England at some point, and if he goes out to United this season, he may be given the chance.
It just so happens that Chelsea will be looking for a new manager at the end of the season, and although owner Roman Abramovich would have to eat a massive piece of humble pie, he might just be interested in bringing back Mourinho to revitalize the Blues.
We will have to wait and see just how things play out, but you can bet that in the coming months, how well a coach does in the Champions League will have a big impact on where he is coaching next season.