The odds that Rafa Benitez will become the next manager of Aston Villa have tumbled, and the former Liverpool manager is now just a hair's breadth behind Norwich City boss Paul Lambert in the eyes of the bookies. At least in terms of what the bookies' believe will make them the most money, because (and I hate to have to keep saying this) the odds have very little to do with the actual situation and far more to do with the way the bets are moving. One would think people would have figured that out by now, but apparently not.
We don't have any actual idea what (if any) conversations the board has had with Benitez or whether they've even had internal conversations about the possibility of Benitez being hired. Based on the information we do have, the possibility seems incredibly remote. Benitez is not a young manager, and it's difficult to think that he's especially hungry. (No, I will not make that joke. He's a man, a person, with feelings, dammit!) Benitez is going to expect not only a fairly hefty wage but, one would expect, a fairly hefty transfer budget as well; let's not forget, Rafa was interviewed for the Villa job once before, and based on the information that was leaked things never got especially far along because he had little interest in working without some pretty extensive financial commitments from the board.
And who can blame him? A somewhat disastrous half-season at Inter Milan (which, it's becoming increasingly clear, cannot be chalked up entirely to him) aside, Rafa Benitez has accomplished a tremendous amount in the game; two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup, an FA Cup, and a Champions League win. He was at one point in time one of the most tactically gifted managers in the game, and he's not so old or prone to being set in his ways that there's reason to believe the game has passed him by. Benitez has been out of work for close to a year-and-a-half, but he's still mentioned nearly every time there's a high-profile opening somewhere, and it's incredibly difficult for me to believe that he's going to be without a job by the time August rolls around. In some ways the Villa job would be a perfect fit for him, but without the financial flexibility to make some pretty big signings this off-season it's unlikely he'd be able to get the club much higher than mid-table and even that seems a stretch. In other words, he'd be setting himself up to fail, and of all the things Rafa Benitez may or may not be, it's tough for me to think he's an idiot.
In a perfect world, I'd be all for Benitez. He's certainly not the world's most popular guy, but he's also really, really good at a lot of things. If these odds-fuelded rumors evolve into actual rumors at some point, I'm going to take it as a positive sign because it likely means Randy Lerner is gearing up for another round of investment in the squad. I just cannot imagine a scenario in which Benitez takes this job with this team and is expected to make significant improvements in the team's performance without upwards of £20 million to spend on new players. He's not really a long-term project kind of guy, at least not at this stage.
Frankly, this is a sign that neither the bookmakers or the public at-large have much of an idea what's going on in the Villa manager search. Which, after the high-profile failures in landing their last two top targets, is fine by me. Is it possible that Benitez ends up being the guy? Sure, I guess. But it sure as heck isn't likely. I've always thought that, unless it ended up being Lambert (which looks increasingly unlikely in my eyes,) we were all going to be really surprised by the hire. I still think that's the case. But it's not going to be this kind of surprise.