Rafael Benítez, having completed his final press conference at Chelsea's Cobham training ground on Friday, shook hands with the journalists present and wished them well. It was a goodbye of sorts ahead of the Spaniard's final competitive match as the club's interim manager but as far as his time in England is concerned Benítez does not want Sunday afternoon's visit of Everton to be the end.
Instead the 53-year-old is keen to return to management as soon as possible, which may come as a surprise given the difficult nature of his six-month tenure at Stamford Bridge, played out as it has been against a backdrop of hostility and mockery from the club's supporters. But with Chelsea all but qualified for the Champions League and having bagged the Europa League on a heady night in Amsterdam, Benítez is ready for more.
"There are different options but I do not see too many top sides in England at the moment," he said. "Maybe I will have to look at other opportunities around the world. But my idea is to stay in England."
Benítez was then asked if he would join only a high-ranking club in this country, to which he replied: "Yes, or one with a project." So he could be interested in a club lower down in the Premier League but with ambitions to rise higher? "It depends on the project," he said. "I have to analyse everything because I want to stay around and compete."
The answers were short and vague but ultimately told everything. This is a man who feels refreshed rather than drained by his time at Chelsea and is so determined to carry on working that he could countenance moving to a place where the prospect of managing a player of the calibre of Juan Mata and of competing for major European honours is a distant dream.
Some may call that desperation but Benítez simply appears to not want to slide back into the shadows, as he did after being sacked by Internazionale in December 2010. He had to wait 23 months to be employed again, with Roberto Di Matteo's dismissal at Chelsea offering the former Liverpool manager a route back to the Premier League, and while he spoke about being patient and waiting for the right opportunity to come about, Benítez also reiterated his desire to be in employment by the start of next season. "There have been no official offers, but that is my idea," he said.
Staying at Chelsea appears not to be an option. While some fans have warmed to the Spaniard – Benítez claims to have received emails of support and congratulations after the Europa League final win against Benfica – most remain against him. Besides, José Mourinho appears certain to return shortly, with Benítez suggesting as much himself on Friday.
He leaves with head held high, however. Chelsea face Everton knowing victory would guarantee third place, and while the side were disappointed in the Club World Cup in Japan and by losing to Swansea in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup, securing the Europa League and reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup, where they gave Manchester City a game, means, overall, it has been a good season for a club thrown in to familiar turmoil by Di Matteo's departure. Benítez also leaves behind an increasingly impressive team, with David Luiz having developed into an influential central midfielder under the Spaniard and Fernando Torres showing flickers of his old self, no more so than with his goal against Benfica.
"The team has improved, it has more balance, more experience and we achieved what we were looking for. So it is quite positive," Benítez said. "It will be sad [to leave] because I can see in training how the players are improving, the understanding between them, the understanding between us. This is a top side, a top club, the players are good, so there a lot of managers who can do a good job here."
After Sunday Benítez will manage Chelsea in two friendlies against Manchester City in the US later this month, or in the unlikely but possible event of them finishing on the same points, goals scored and goals conceded as Arsenal, in a third-place play-off against them at Villa Park on Sunday 26 March.
Then it will be time to find a new club or a new "project". With his family still living on Merseyside, Benítez has been linked with Everton. "It would not be easy for them to approach me and it would not be easy for me to go there," he said. But he did not say he wasn't interested.