LONDON: Rafa Benitez emerged from the weekend smiling and still in a job despite having taken yet another beating from Chelsea’s own fans after a goal from Demba Ba handed the European champions a 1-0 win over West Bromwich.
Benitez was jeered yet again by Blues’ own supporters before kick-off and during the first half after his midweek outburst criticising them for spending too much time attacking him and not enough supporting the team.
Chelsea’s fifth win in seven matches prompted him to say that “the atmosphere was really good,” but he was the only person in Stamford Bridge who thought so. The fans even turned up with handmade banners proclaiming: “The Interim One” and “Rafa Benitez we’re just not that inter im.”
Fans also chanted the names of his immediate predecessor Roberto Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho who would be a popular returnee after the Spaniard leaves at the end of the season – if not before. Oddly, West Bromwich were the final league opponents for both Andre Villas-Boas and Di Matteo.
In midweek, after FA Cup holders Chelsea won away to Middlesbrough, it appeared that Benitez had decided to say what he felt before he was paid off with a ‘silence’ clause in his termination contract.
He criticised not only the fans but also the club management – meaning, indirectly, owner Roman Abramovich – for entitling him ‘interim’ manager. Her thought that undermined his authority from the start.
However, ever Chelsea manager is ‘interim’ whether he has the formal title or not. The club have had 10 bosses in 10 years under Abramovich and the only one to walk away of his own volition was Guus Hiddink after his half-season caretaker stewardship in 2009.
Saturday brought loud chants in the second half for Mourinho but Benitez would not address questions directly about his old adversary.
The Spaniard, who remains confident of fulfilling his brief of securing Champions League football next term, said: “The main thing is the team. We needed three points.”
Benitez denied reports of dressing-room unrest. He claimed the players are happy with his work, saying: “I have a lot of conversations with the players, and the majority of them say they are happy with the training sessions, the methods, the intensity. We try and do our best, and sometimes we cannot, but I think they are quite happy.
“If you have 25 players in a squad, you’ll obviously have one or two who aren’t happy, but you can find that in every squad around the world.”
Chelsea were without injured-again John Terry on Saturday but Benitez denied the club captain was one of the unhappy players, saying: “No. When he’s fit, he’s training, he’s fine. You can play him. You have to manage them. I have a very good relationship with everyone . . . I don’t see a big problem there.”
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