Benitez vows to win over hostile fans
A defiant Rafael Benitez has vowed to win over Chelsea’s support after his debut as the club’s interim first-team manager prompted a poisonous reaction from the stands and a show of support for the dismissed Roberto Di Matteo.
The abuse rained down as soon as Benitez, the former Liverpool coach, appeared on the touchline before kick-off ahead of the goalless draw with Manchester City, with the chorus of boos giving way to chants of “F*** off Benitez, you’re not wanted here” and disdain from the majority within Stamford Bridge. The club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, looked on impassively from an executive box as the pitch-side announcer attempted in vain to declare a minute’s applause would be held for the former Chelsea manager, Dave Sexton, who died yesterday aged 82.
That was eventually observed, but the abuse of Benitez continued throughout the match with banners declaring “Rafa out” held aloft alongside others backing Di Matteo. Benitez initially claimed he had not heard or understood the chants, though the Spaniard later accepted that he must convince the fans he belongs.
“I have been here in England for eight years and have heard a lot of things,” he said.
“The good thing is I don’t understand what people were singing. I was asking: ‘What are they saying?’ But I don’t care. I’m just focused on the game. I want to change the perception. How? By working hard, doing my best and winning games.
“I can understand it because of the rivalry in the past [with Benitez’s Liverpool side from 2004-10], and we cannot judge the supporters. We have to respect them. But I’m sure the majority will understand. I’m a professional.
“I will do my job and I want to win, and I want to win for this club. I hope they share those ideas. The fans, apart from that, are with the team. They will be with the team and, hopefully, with me in the next games because I will do a professional job and try to win.”
Asked about the banners that had been hoisted, Benitez added: “How many people do you need to write a banner? Just one. Then two to hold it up. If we start winning games, the fans will come on board and they will see I’m trying to do my best.
“Some of the fans will realise that is not the way to support their team. They’ll know they have a professional manager in charge, someone who wants to win games, and the fans are the same. So we will win together.”