Let's stick together, Benitez tells Chelsea fans
LONDON (AFP) –
Rafael Benitez, the under-pressure Chelsea interim manager, urged all connected with the club to unite Friday as he tried to get irate fans onside.
Benitez has faced renewed calls for his dismissal after he launched an astonishing attack on the club’s supporters and the Stamford Bridge hierarchy following Chelsea’s 2-0 victory at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round on Wednesday.
“What I said is we have 11 games to play, 33 points (to play for), we must stick together and get behind the team,” Benitez told a Friday news conference.
“The message is clear — I have no problem with the board, Michael Emenalo (Chelsea’s technical director), Roman Abramovich or the players.
“I will do the best for the club. I have 26 years of principles, respect and education to achieve what I have,” the Spaniard added.
“I would like to see a fantastic atmosphere supporting the team, and I will be really pleased with that.”
The 52-year-old, despised by many Chelsea fans following his spell with their rivals Liverpool, risked the wrath of Blues’ owner Abramovich by asking why the club insisted on making him an “interim” manager when he replaced the sacked Roberto di Matteo in November.
His outburst at Middlesbrough sparked speculation his position was in immediate danger, but he took training as scheduled as the European champions prepared for Saturday’s Premier League game with West Bromwich Albion.
Benitez, who has made it clear he intends to see out a contract that expires at the end of the season, said Friday he had no problem with his status.
“It’s not an issue now,” he explained. “I said before… One thing’s a mistake. Another’s an issue. Now it’s not an issue.
“In my head, I am the manager. I have to manage the team,” said Benitez, who on Wednesday confirmed he will leave Chelsea at the end of the season.
“I will finish my contract until the end and I don’t want to be a distraction,” he added.
Benitez highlighted the positive crowd atmosphere in wins over Napoli last season and London rivals Arsenal as examples of the kind of backing he wanted to see this weekend.
“Against Napoli they were running an extra mile. Feeling the support against Arsenal, they were running an extra mile. I was trying to explain that if we stick together it will be easier.”
Asked if his comments after the Middlesbrough match had made fans less likely to support the side, Benitez replied: “The fans can express their feelings. That is normal.
“I don’t have any problem with that. They have to stay behind the team, supporting the team. That is the way for me. It will be fantastic for the players, for everyone.
“I am part of the team. I need the supporters behind the team.”
For all the subsequent controversy, Benitez insisted he had no regrets about joining Chelsea.
“When I decided to come here, it was because I have ambition. I have passion for the game and ambition, and I want to win trophies.
“Still we have two trophies to play for (the FA Cup and Europa League) and I will try to do my best and win these trophies.
“I have confidence that what I’m doing is right, and I’ll try and do my best. And I will try to do my best until the last minute.”
Chelsea are currently fourth in the table, two points clear of Arsenal in the race for a place in next season’s Champions League but 19 adrift of Premier League leaders Manchester United.
“Realistically, it won’t be easy. Manchester City (currently second and seven points ahead of Chelsea) are a good team and they have good players. They can keep winning games and it will be difficult. But you never know in football.
“West Brom will be the first one. After that we’ll try to progress in the Europa League and FA Cup. Every game is important. We want to win every game.”