Abramovich turns to Benitez to plug short-term gap
Chelsea have appointed Rafael Benitez as their interim manager until the end of the season after the European champions reacted ruthlessly to the team’s recent slump by sacking Roberto Di Matteo only six months after he won the Champions League.
Benitez cut short a stay in the Middle East, where he was delivering a coaching seminar to the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and flew to the United Kingdom last night to rubber stamp his return to the Premier League.
The club still aspire to securing Pep Guardiola next summer, when the former Barcelona manager has suggested he will return from a year-long sabbatical, though his compatriot will now effectively have an opportunity to stake his own case to take the job on a long-term basis before then.
The Chelsea hierarchy had informed Di Matteo that he was to be relieved of his duties at around 4am yesterday morning following the team’s return from their Champions League loss to Juventus. The club then held an emergency board meeting at Stamford Bridge during the day at which they decided to pursue their interest in Benitez in preference to the mooted potential reappointment of Avram Grant.
The Spaniard, who had been approached earlier this year when Andre Villas-Boas was in charge and offered similar terms only to seek a longer deal, duly became the club’s ninth manager in as many years under Roman Abramovich’s ownership.
At the club’s training base in Cobham today he will meet his new players, including Fernando Torres, who flourished under his management on Merseyside. Benitez must set about winning over deeply sceptical Chelsea supporters, starting with Sunday’s visit of the league leaders Manchester City, and with memories of his Liverpool side’s scraps against Chelsea still all too raw.
The 52-year-old, who has been out of work since leaving Internazionale in December 2010 after a brief 25-game stint in charge, is expected to be unveiled tomorrow.
“The reason [I have not coached for two years] is that you are looking for a top side that can challenge for trophies, because there are not too many top sides that can challenge so I had to wait,” he said in Abu Dhabi.
“I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies so Chelsea is one of these clubs.”
Chelsea had been courting Guardiola aggressively in recent weeks, hoping to lure him from his break, but he has reiterated his desire to remain in Manhattan with his family.
While the club are hopeful he can be persuaded to join in the summer, he has offered no guarantees he would be willing to take up the reins at Stamford Bridge.