LONDON: All the pressure, tension and frustration building up behind the scenes at Chelsea exploded in a remarkable outburst by Rafael Benitez after the European champions’ 2-0 win against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup fifth round.
Benitez was appointed at the end of October in place of sacked Roberto Di Matteo, to the anger of Stamford Bridge who remembered only too well his antagonistic attitude towards Chelsea when he was manager at Liverpool.
He has not been given a moment’s peace by the Chelsea fans and the media has been replete with speculation ever since his arrival – given Chelsea’s record – about how long he would last under the reign of impatient owner Roman Abramovich.
Benitez began by criticising the club for saddling him with the title of ‘interim manager,’ a decision taken at a time when Abramovich hoped to bring in Pep Guardiola next summer; instead Guardiola later turned down Chelsea and accepted an offer from Bayern Munich.
The 52-year-old Benitez said: “Chelsea gave me the title of interim manager, which is a massive mistake. I’m the manager. The fans are not helping us. At the end of the season I will leave. They don’t have to worry about me.
“I have been in charge in football for 26 years, I won the Champions League, I won the FIFA Club World Cup, the FA Cup, the Italian Super Cup, the Spanish league twice, nine trophies – all the trophies you can win at club level.
“So this group of fans are not making any favourites with the team and they are singing and wasting time preparing banners. They have to concentrate on supporting the team, that’s what they have to do.
“I am a professional and I am doing my job. What I want to do is win every single game for Chelsea.”
Reports emerged from Stamford Bridge earlier in the week that Benitez had been involved in a heated exchanged with some of his players in the wake of last Sunday’s 2-0 defeat at Manchester City.
Before the Middlesbrough, tie Benitez insisted he had a “fantastic” relationship with his squad and he repeated that assurance after his team set up an FA Cup quarter-final clash with Manchester United.
Benitez said: “I have a top side and a good group of players who work hard and it is a top club, it is not a problem. The problem is a group of people who can say what they want.”
Chelsea have won 13 of 26 matches since Benitez took charge and are fourth in the Premier League, 19 points behind leaders Manchester United.
The former Inter Milan boss said he would be “the happiest man in the world” were the club to qualify for the Champions League, but questioned the decision to call him ‘interim manager’.
“I have a title. Someone decided the title would be interim. Why? Just in case?” said Benitez.
“Fine, that is your decision. I don’t agree, but that is your decision and now everybody has to take responsibility. Everybody is interim because after you there is another one. In this case they didn’t have anyone so why did they put interim?
“I can’t change the titles and the perception so it doesn’t matter now. What I have to do is be sure that I give 100pc every single day. They will know I am trying to do my best.
“The manager is the manager. One month, three months, seven months – it doesn’t matter.”
# # # #