Benitez confirms Lampard and Cole will leave Chelsea in the summer
Equally impressed has been Abramovich, who enjoyed a three-hour dinner with the ninth manager he has appointed in nine years before Benitez emerged from that first meeting of employer and employee convinced he will be able to pick his team without influence from above.
“The priority of the owner was whether I’m a good manager, a good coach, if the players understand me and if we’ll be a winning team,” he said. “He was very clear with that and happy with the things I’ve said. My impression of him was he’s a nice person. You can talk with him and he understands and he likes to see you have clear ideas.
“I’ve had quite a lot of different owners, presidents and chairmen in my 26 years in football and they all liked to talk about football and find out what was going on. If you have confidence in yourself and can explain yourself, everyone can understand. But after the owners [Tom Hicks and George Gillett] we had at Anfield – they didn’t love each other – this will be easier. I know who the person is in charge.”
While the hierarchy seem buoyed by his arrival, the Chelsea supporters will take longer to come to terms with Benitez’s appointment, with rival managers having also expressed some surprise. Alex Ferguson wasted little time reigniting his long-running feud with the Spaniard by suggesting he was “lucky” to have been parachuted in.
Benitez rolled his eyes at Ferguson’s words. “I’ve missed training the players and improving my team, even if the other things are part of football now,” he said. “I like to talk about football but, if people push you . . . well, if you want to win, maybe you have to push back.”
Fernando Torres will start that fixture, with his compatriot convinced he can squeeze form from from him. “I don’t need to talk too much to Fernando because he knows me and what I’m looking for,” he said.
“My idea isn’t just to improve Fernando but the whole team. I can’t just focus on him. But when I look at him I see a player with commitment and a desire to improve, just as I do when I look at the others.”