Benitez bids to win round Chelsea fans
LONDON (AFP) –
Rafael Benitez tried to overcome hostility from Chelsea fans angry with his appointment as interim manager by insisting both he and they wanted the same things.
The Spaniard started life with the European champions on Thursday after the London club sacked Roberto di Matteo.
The former Liverpool manager was getting to know the Blues squad at their Cobham training ground, south of London, before facing the media at Stamford Bridge at 1730 GMT.
During his years at Anfield, Benitez became something of a ‘hate figure’ with Chelsea fans but he told Britain’s Sky Sports on Thursday: “You know, the fans they always want the same as the manager, to win games and to win titles.”
The 52-year-old said he would take “one game at a time” but was confident of success even though his present contracts only runs until the end of the season.
He added: “I think it is a top side. You can challenge for trophies when you are in a top side.”
Meanwhile press reports said former Dutch midfielder Boudewijn Zenden, who played for Chelsea and later under Benitez at Liverpool, had been appointed as the new Blues boss’s deputy.
Di Matteo was fired after Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat by Juventus in Turin left Chelsea facing elimination at the group stage of the Champions League they won last year.
His dismissal means that Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s Russian billionaire owner, has now sacked seven managers since buying the club in 2003.
The appointment of Benitez, back in management for the first time since a brief spell with Inter Milan ended two years ago, on such a short contract led to renewed speculation that Chelsea’s long-term target was former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, currently on a year’s sabbatical from football.
Benitez faces a tough introduction, with Chelsea having won just twice in eight games and the club’s next opponents Premier League champions Manchester City on Sunday, where Chelsea will look to close a four-point gap on the league leaders.
Di Matteo replaced the sacked Andre Villas-Boas in March and led Chelsea to an FA Cup and Champions League double, with the Blues beating Bayern Munich on penalties in May to become the first London club to lift the European Cup.
The former Italy midfielder, who played in two FA Cup winning teams for Chelsea, said it was an “honour” to be manager of the club, with the Champions League victory a highlight.
But there was widespread sympathy for di Matteo from his fellow managers and across the British press after just 262 days in charge, with a stable relationship between board and boss seen by many in English football as the bedrock of success.
Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, in charge of the Gunners since 1996, was particularly scathing about Chelsea’s decision.
“I find it surprising and very sad personally,” Wenger said after Arsenal’s 2-0 Champions League win over Montpellier on Wednesday.
Arsenal, however, have not won a major trophy for seven years and there was a growing acceptance that Abramovich’s vast personal wealth meant that, at Chelsea at least, the usual rules did not apply.
The Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel contrasted Chelsea’s position with that of Manchester United, where Alex Ferguson has been the manager for 26 years.
“In the time Abramovich as been at Chelsea, United, the most convincing argument for patience and loyalty there has been in English football, have won nine trophies (one Champions League, four Premier League, three League Cup, one FA Cup).
“But Chelsea have won 10 (one Champions League, three Premier League, four FA Cup, two League Cup).
“Abramovich’s success as an owner is just further evidence of the overwhelming influence of money: throw enough cash at a problem in football and however crass the executive behaviour, chances are results will come your way eventually.”
He added: “Abramovich’s actions defy convention and therefore conventional analysis.”