Where next for Benitez?
As Rafael Benitez celebrates Christmas at home on the Wirral peninsula following his exit from Inter Milan, an unlikely theory is formulating in the minds of some Liverpool supporters.
It is a theory that may even formulate in the mind of Benitez himself - namely that a departure laced with acrimony after only six months at the San Siro might actually be a road that leads him back to Anfield.
For all the turmoil and mediocrity of Benitez's final season at Liverpool, there is no question one of the game's most complex and divisive characters still holds a section, however small, of the club's support in his thrall.
However, if Benitez and his admirers retain some distant hope that the Spaniard could some day reclaim his old job, it might be best if they think again.
Benitez's stock remains high after successes at Valencia and Liverpool. Photo: Getty Images
Benitez's availability will alert clubs around Europe despite damage done to his reputation in the last 18 months, encompassing his decline at Liverpool and a swift demise at Inter.
And given he has retained his home across the Mersey from Liverpool, where he sought refuge as his reign at the San Siro reached its contentious conclusion, there may well be suitors in the Premier League should he linger on the market long enough.
Yet, while he retains a special affection for Liverpool's fans, even giving them a namecheck after Inter won the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi in what turned out to be his final game in charge of the Serie A club, it is unlikely his flight from Italy to England will attract more than a passing glance in Anfield's boardroom.
Firstly, Liverpool have a manager in Roy Hodgson, admittedly one who is struggling to impose himself but nevertheless one who still retains the support of new owner John W Henry and his NESV cohorts from Boston.
Liverpool also have a director of football strategy in Damien Comolli, appointed by Henry. In Benitez's managerial world - and he is not alone here - there can be only one director of football strategy. And that is Benitez himself.
Finally, and rather significantly, a large part of the Liverpool executive team who lived through the final turbulent months of the Benitez regime have fresh memories.
There is also still a feeling inside Anfield, voiced by Hodgson although aggressively challenged by his predecessor, that Liverpool had been left with an environment overpopulated by poor players and expensive Benitez failures.
Benitez, who left Anfield with a reported £6m pay-off, has demonstrated acumen that will still make him an attractive commodity on the market - if only he could keep his distance from the compulsive politicking that has characterised his career.
For someone many regard as a warm and engaging personality, he also appears to have an insatiable desire for conflict, a love of creating chaos out of calm. Such a track record will be studied as closely as his footballing pedigree by potential employers.
A man of contradictions, Benitez was perceived as ruthless and only too willing to freeze out those who did not buy into his methods yet generous enough to donate £96,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group after leaving Liverpool.
He craves absolute control and yet too often wants to deflect the blame in the direction of others when matters veer off course. He demands full responsibility and yet appears reluctant to take it when times get tough.
Those contradictions also apply to opinions as to his standing as a coach. Very few are neutrals on the subject of Rafael Benitez.
He did an outstanding job at Valencia in succession to Hector Cuper, bringing two La Liga titles and the Uefa Cup to the Mestalla before leaving for Liverpool. Benitez, in what was to become his trademark, fell out with Valencia director of sport Jesus Garcia Pitarch, famously complaining about lack of control over transfers with the words: "I asked for a table and they bought me a lampshade."
At Liverpool, he will deservedly have a special place in the club's history for the miracle of Istanbul and the Champions League final win against AC Milan in 2005. However it became apparent there were fractured relationships with the club's hierarchy, notably former chief executive Rick Parry, former owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, plus ex-managing director Christian Purslow.
Benitez steered Liverpool to Champions League success in 2005. Photo: Getty Images
Even against this backdrop, Benitez won the FA Cup against West Ham in 2006 and reached another Champions League final, this time losing to AC Milan, the following year.
But he has stumbled badly since steering Liverpool to a second-place finish in the 2008/09 Premier League, only four points behind champions Manchester United.
In this campaign, Benitez produced a side that could play blistering, high-speed attacking football of a calibre that saw off Real Madrid on a magical Anfield night in the Champions League and also brought a stunning 4-1 win at Old Trafford inside four days.
In amongst the criticism of Benitez's behaviour, the bickering with owners and the pointless and ultimately self-defeating attack on Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson when Liverpool sat top of the table in early 2009, there must also be credit for much of the work the Spaniard did before his reign slid to a miserable conclusion.
Such was my own conviction that Benitez had got things right at Liverpool that I felt confident enough to predict a title triumph last season - only to err by the margin of seven places and the small matter of 23 points.
Benitez's penchant for confrontation was repeated at Inter, when his invitation to Massimo Moratti to "back me or sack me" after beating Congolese side TP Mazembe to win the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi was accepted with alacrity - and not in Benitez's favour - by the all-powerful Inter president.
No table. No lampshade. Just a door and how to make his way through it.
This challenge to authority was made from a position of weakness as Benitez has struggled badly to match the feats of old adversary and Inter predecessor Jose Mourinho, who won Serie A, the Italian Cup and the Champions League last season.
It was almost as if he walked into a booby trap of Mourinho's making. How could Benitez improve on the feats of "The Special One"? He was sipping from a poisoned chalice.
Benitez hoped to do this with a more attractive style but was not helped by injuries to key players and a reluctance on Moratti's part to loosen the purse strings. Then, for someone seemingly only too willing to pick a fight, Benitez chose one he could not win.
When linked with Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt earlier this season, he said: "I am the coach and I cannot sign players. That is for the technical director and the chairman. I am fine like this. I can focus on my work on the pitch and that is all. I am the coach not the manager."
It seems logical to presume that, from Benitez's desire to maintain roots on Merseyside, he is only too happy to work once again in the Premier League.
Geographically, Blackburn Rovers might suit his purposes but it is hard to see any other way in which they would be a comfortable fit for Benitez. Steve Kean has been told he is in charge until the end of the season and Benitez, in any event, may not regard them as illustrious enough to satisfy his ambitions.
Also, the abrupt manner in which the club's new Indian owners dispensed with manager Sam Allardyce shortly after taking over suggests the two parties might not be a perfect match either.
West Ham? Like Liverpool, they have a manager in place in Avram Grant. Not only that, a relegation fight in the capital would not appear to be Benitez's natural territory.
A return to La Liga is a possibility, where his achievement in breaking up the cartel of Real Madrid and Barcelona with Valencia ensures his stock remains high. However, he may have to move down some rungs on the ladder to resume that fight once more.
Wherever Benitez turns up next, those same contradictions and confrontations seem sure to follow him, ensuring he remains one of football's most intriguing figures.