Feb 282013

BBC Radio 5 live reporter Alastair Yeomans: “What was a difficult first half for you in the end turned out OK?”

Rafael Benitez: “Yes, it was difficult, normally in the FA Cup it’s always difficult but I thought our team was doing well, it was a professional performance, a lot of players doing well. I was really pleased with Nathan Ake [who made his full debut] and really pleased with Paulo Ferreira because they showed they are good players and fantastic professionals. So for me, a great performance of the team and I am really pleased with the result.”

AY: “What was your thinking about making eight changes for this game, because we saw the other week when Arsenal maybe didn’t play their full team against Blackburn they lost. What was your thinking about that?”

RB: “I had a lot of confidence in the players because I can see them training every day and they were doing really well, so I was really pleased, I could see in the training sessions and was really pleased, so to play them, no problem.”

AY: “And first half, the tempo, was that quick enough for you, was that good enough for you?”

RB: “I think that they were pushing so they were working hard so it was not easy but they were doing their job.”

AY: “How important is this FA Cup to you now? You go to Manchester United next so there are no givens.”

RB: “I think for us every game, every trophy is really important. I have been manager for 26 years, I have won the Fifa Club World Cup, the Champions League, FA Cup, a lot of trophies and I’m really a little bit disappointed with some fans, a group of fans singing and I think they are not making any favour to the team.

“They have to support the team instead of wasting time doing banners or singing songs. What they have to do is support the team and create a good atmosphere in Stamford Bridge. If we cannot achieve the target that we are looking for, to be in the Champions League… If they continue singing and talking and talking then I think they are not making any favours. They have to support the players, they have to support the team, I have experience as a manager, I will do my best until the last day.

“They gave me the title of interim manager, it’s a massive mistake. I am the manager and I will manage the team until the end, every single minute.

“If they want to carry on wasting time with these things because they have an agenda, they have to take responsibility if something is wrong. It’s not just ‘I will blame this one, I will blame the other one’, what they have to do is to support the team and then everyone has to stick together and we can achieve what we want to achieve – that is the Champions League. Simple.

“If not then next year they can carry on singing but we will be in the Europa League so they have to realise that they are not making any favour – to the rest of the fans and also to the players.”

AY: “When you made the comments that they are talking about, some of them, you were fighting for Liverpool. There was a big rivalry with Liverpool and Chelsea, you’d expect you to say those things, is that what you’re saying?”

RB: “I am a professional, I am doing my job and I will do my job. What I want to do is, I want to win every single game for Chelsea Football Club. But, if they don’t understand this, at the end of the season, because I am interim, I will leave. They don’t need to worry about me.

“What they have to do is to support the team, to support the players. And it’s a group of people and they have an agenda. They have to realise that the rest of the fans, they want to see the team the next year in the Champions League. It’s not ‘I am right or I am wrong’, you have to see the team in the Champions League and they have to support the team, that is the main thing.

“At the end of the season, I will leave. They don’t need to be worrying about me.”

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Feb 272013

Following Chelsea’s 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in the FA Cup this evening, Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez launched an incredible attack on the fans.

Benitez was an unpopular choice at Stamford Bridge largely due to his time as Liverpool boss when he claimed that Chelsea fans lacked passion and was involved in several heated games in the Champions League.

Since arriving at the club the fans have made their feelings on his appointment very clear by singing anti-Benitez songs and bringing “Rafa out” banners to games every week.

“They are wasting time with their banners and songs,” said Benitez tonight. “They don’t need to worry about me. I leave at end of the season. These Chelsea fans have an agenda. These Chelsea fans are damaging the image of the club. I’m experienced. I’ve won the Champions League, the Spanish league twice, the FA Cup. They (fans) are a group with an agenda. They must get behind the team or they will be in the Europa League next season.”

Benitez has the lowest win percentage of any manager during the Roman Abramovich era and since he got the job Chelsea have slipped from 4 points behind the league leaders to 19 points behind. There have been reports that his relationship has broken down with the players which has only served to perpetuate rumours that he might not even last until the end of the season at Stamford Bridge.

Benitez may have speeded his exit along tonight as it wasn’t just the fans who he attacked in the press conference, but the board too, after the decision was made to call him the “interim” manager, making it clear that his post was only intended to last until the end of the season.

“Why put ‘interim’ in title?” he said. “Why did they need to do that? Maybe they thought: ‘He was at Liverpool so we put ‘interim’ in’.”

Benitez is no stranger to having a rant though, with his most famous coming back in 2009 when Liverpool were top of the league, and he chose to attend a pre-match press conference with a list of “facts” about rival manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Liverpool preceded the pick up just 10 points from the next available 21 and United raced ahead, going on to equal Liverpool’s record of 18 titles. “He’s cracking up, he’s cracking up, he’s cracking, Rafa’s cracking up” the United fans used to chant. I imagine we’ll be hearing the same from Chelsea fans at the weekend…

Nov 262012

Think of Chelsea Football Club, and what appears in your mind? The royal blue shirts of the West London club? A world-beating team that have won twelve trophies in just eight seasons? A Portuguese maverick at the helm of one of the great dynasties of English football? Or a Russian oligarch that has pumped billions of oil-rich pounds into the club? I’d stick a fiver on that latter point.

The truth is that the words ‘Chelsea’ and ‘money’ now come hand-in-hand, all due to Roman Abramovich’s footballing hobby. The Russian’s £8.4bn fortune allows him to wheel and deal with the great and good of the world, and when he wanted to buy Chelsea, he was going to get his deal. Since his takeover in 2003, Abramovich has spent over £1bn on transfers, let alone the £140m it cost to buy the club, a brand-new training centre and mass improvements behind the scenes. But this week, his money has reared its ugly head, and the Chelsea fans aren’t exactly happy about it.

After losing 3-0 to Juventus midweek, Roman had had enough. Two points from four games in the Premier League left them four points adrift from the top of the league, whilst the loss in Turin leaves the European Champions at the brink of elimination from the group stages of the Champions League. Abramovich wanted a head, and it was Roberto Di Matteo that took his brown box and cleared his desk.

Sacking a Chelsea legend – someone that had won the much-coveted Champions League trophy for the club last season – wasn’t ever going to be particularly popular with the fans, but the bizarre decision to bring Rafael Benitez, former Liverpool manager, in as interim head coach baffled the world. As the rumours spread across the internet like wildfire, Chelsea fans were livid, and the boos that greeted him at Sunday’s game against Manchester City proved their point. The fans don’t want him, and are already laying in to him.

But should the fans’ axe already hovering precariously above Rafa be wielded, or should they be shouting down Abramovich? As vast as his fortune, you can’t buy club pride, as he is learning quickly.

The protests at Stamford Bridge on Sunday were all aimed at Rafa – ‘RAFA OUT’, ‘RAFA – WE DON’T FORGET’, ‘ONLY ONE DI MATTEO’, to name but a few. The boos that continually rang around the ground will have unnerved him and the senior management, no matter what Benitez said in his post-match interview. The mass applause and cheering at the 16th minute of the game – a tribute to Di Matteo – prove how unpopular a decision this has been. But no fan doubts Abramovich – not a single one.

Unfortunately, money talks. The Chelsea fans won’t ever campaign against Abramovich, because of what he has given the club. If they alienate their owner, he will walk away, and if he walks away… There are problems. Major problems.

‘In Roman We Trust’, said one solitary banner at the game on Sunday. Just one person who believes it may have been the right move. Whether he believes that deep down, I don’t know, yet his choice of statement speaks volumes. The fans know that they need Abramovich to stay at the top of the game, and Roman knows that the fans need him, too. All the power lies in the Russian’s hands, so he’ll do whatever he wants.

Nine managers have taken the reigns at Chelsea in as many years, with only two lasting more than a year in the role. The club have spent £86m on sacking managers since 2004 – an astonishing sum, seeing as that’s just contractual pay-offs. Roman craves success, and the minute he doesn’t like what he sees, he smells blood. Repercussions don’t cross his mind – he rules the roost, and he’ll do what he wants. Decisions may not be popular with the fans – the sacking of Di Matteo and the £50m purchase of Fernando Torres spring to mind – yet the fans won’t complain. Abramovich saved the club and brought some of the best in the world in; if the fans have to suffer silently to keep him around, they’ll do exactly that.

The decision to axe Di Matteo is highly unpopular throughout the game, and may come back to bite Abramovich hard come the end of the season. The fans aren’t happy, Rafa doesn’t have the backing of the fans and the club looks in a turbulent position, with experienced players, like Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard likely to leave the club at the end of their contracts. Rumours over the weekend surfaced that Pep Guardiola, Roman’s choice to replace Rafa at the end of the season, doesn’t want to take the West London role, as the Russian is ‘too trigger-happy’. When a manager’s replacement is already being discussed just two days after his appointment, you know you’re in for a rough ride.

The Roman Revolution came, saw, and conquered. The glory day in Munich in May was the culmination of eight years’ investment and hard work. As all major revolutions have found – America, Germany, Russia, China, the Arab Spring – having your day basking in the sun is the beginning, not the end. It’s uphill from that point, and it most certainly will be for Abramovich’s Chelsea.

Nov 222012

Rafael Benitez took his first Chelsea training session at Cobham this afternoon after arriving at the training ground at lunchtime to meet with the staff and players.

He took control of a high-intensity practice ahead of Sunday’s game against Manchester City at Stamford Bridge, where he is expected to be greeted with a chorus of boos.

Nov 212012

Rafael Benitez was announced as the interim Chelsea manager this evening after the shock sacking of Roberto Di Matteo.

Whilst not necessarily historic rivals, Chelsea and Liverpool have clashed several times over recent years and there is a great amount of hatred between the two clubs. Liverpool fans view themselves as supporters of a club with “history”, thanks to their eighteen league titles and five European Cups. In contrast, whilst Chelsea have only started winning trophies on a regular basis over the past couple of decades, they have created much jealousy amongst Liverpool fans who haven’t won the league since 1990.

The bad feeling between the two clubs was heightened by their regular meetings in the Champions League, with them playing against each other in 04/05, 05/06, 06/07, 07/08 and 08/09, when Liverpool stopped being able to qualify for the competition.

However, it appears as though it is not just the fans that dislike each other, but the Liverpool manager got swept away with it too. Ahead of one of those Champions League meetings in 2007, Benitez expressed his opinion on Chelsea supporters.

“We don’t need to give away stupid plastic flags to our fans to wave, our supporters are always there with their hearts and that is all we need. Its the passion of the fans that helps us to win matches, not flags. Chelsea fans lack passion.”

This quotation is still proudly displayed on the walls of Melwood, Liverpool’s training ground, showing the scorn Benitez felt towards the fans of the club he is now the manager of. There’s no love lost from the fans’ point of view either, who reacted angrily to Benitez being linked to the club when Andre Villas-Boas was sacked earlier this year.

Benitez will be unveiled in front of the home crowd ahead of their match against Manchester City, most likely to a chorus of boos and jeers. Roll on Sunday!