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The 42-year-old Di Matteo went into coaching after his playing career was cut short by injury and led both the MK Dons and West Bromwich Albion before joining Chelsea’s backroom staff.

“We will never forget the huge contribution he has made to this club’s history,” Chelsea’s statement said.

Benitez has been out of work since being fired by Inter in December 2010. Although experienced, his appointment would raise eyebrows given his trademark defensive approach. Abramovich is widely known to prefer his team to show a more attacking style, demonstrating this by spending a combined reported $110 million on attacking midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and Victor Moses in the offseason.

Guardiola, the architect behind Barcelona’s stunning recent success, is believed to be Abramovich’s preferred choice. In four years at the Nou Camp, he won three Spanish league titles and the Champions League twice while retaining the team’s attractive passing style so admired by Abramovich.

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AP Sports Writer Chris Lehourites contributed to this report.