Rafa Benítez has left the Chinese Super League side Dalian Pro, saying that the Covid-19 pandemic was a factor in his decision.
The former Liverpool and Real Madrid head coach was hired on a lucrative contract worth a reported £12m per year after he left Newcastle United in 2019.
“Unfortunately, like so many things in the last year, Covid-19 has changed our lives and our projects,” wrote Benítez on his personal website. “From today, both my coaching staff and I will sadly no longer be coaching Dalian Professional FC.
“It has been an incredible experience and for this I would like to thank all my staff, coaches, medical and club staff as well as our players; their commitment to us in the first place, their support during the time we were there, and their effort has been magnificent. The pandemic is still here, for all of us, and supporting our families has been a priority when making this decision.”
It seems inevitable that Benítez will find himself linked with a return to the Premier League at a time when his successor at Newcastle, Steve Bruce, is coming under increasing pressure.
Frustrated by comparisons to his popular predecessor, Bruce said this week: “He was a world-class manager. Where did he finish [10th and 13th]? Is that success? We matched the mighty Rafa last year. We are in the bottom half of the Premier League and have been there for the best part of 15 years.”
Dalian failed to qualify for the Super League’s Championship stage last season – which was affected by the pandemic – finishing seventh in their eight-team group. But they secured top-flight status in the relegation play-offs.
Benítez said he hoped to have left behind a vision for the club to build on: “I’m convinced we have left a structure and a methodology that will allow the project to go ahead successfully. The first team has been rejuvenated and the foundations have been laid for the future, from the grassroots schools to the top.”