Benitez installed at Stamford Bridge


Soccer:  Rafael Benitez has been appointed “interim first-team manager” at Chelsea after the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo early this morning. The former Liverpool boss will take charge at Stamford Bridge until the end of the season.

A club statement this evening said the Spaniard comes with “outstanding pedigree” and will meet his new squad tomorrow. The presence of the word "interim" in the press release, however, appears the clearest indication yet of Abramovich's determination to land former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola, who seemingly refused to be wooed away from his one-year sabbatical and back to football.

“The owner and the board believe that in Benitez we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives,” the statement read. "The 52-year-old Spaniard is due to meet the players at the training ground in Cobham tomorrow.

“The two-time Uefa manager of the year comes with outstanding pedigree. He began his managerial career in his homeland, most notably at Valencia where he built a reputation as one of Europe's top coaches by winning the Spanish League twice and the Uefa Cup.

“He then spent six years at Liverpool and led them to their fifth European Cup and an FA Cup.”

The ninth managerial appointment of Roman Abramovich's time at Chelsea is arguably the most controversial. Abramovich has appointed a man who was public enemy number one among Chelsea fans during his time at Liverpool.

Di Matteo could hardly have been more popular, having earned legendary status a both a player and manager, while Benitez became a hate figure at Stamford Bridge during his six years at Anfield in which he twice denied them a place in the Champions League final and had more than one run-in with José Mourinho.

The chair of Chelsea Supporters Group Trizia Fiorellino told BBC Sport prior to the appointment that “Benitez will just not be accepted by Chelsea supporters."

She added: "I don’t think Benitez is a good manager, he’s been out of work for two years now. If he was any good, why hasn’t any other club snapped him up?”

David Johnstone, a spokesman for fanzine cfcuk, added: “Rafa Benitez is not a Chelsea manager. Some people are born to play for or manage certain clubs and, for us, Benitez isn’t what we want. When he was Liverpool manager and José Mourinho was Chelsea boss, there was a bit of ‘beef’ between them. He was very dismissive of Chelsea, very rude towards us and my impression of him was, whenever anything went wrong, it was always somebody else’s fault — not his.”

Fiorellino was equally critical of the decision to sack Di Matteo.

“I just think it’s a mad decision at a mad time,” she said. “I personally didn’t agree with Roberto Di Matteo becoming manager. But they gave him the job so they should have given him at least a year. We are bedding in new players, a new style of play. You can’t just take the job away from him.”

But they did just that and Di Matteo has left Benitez a team that is just four points off the top of the league with a Sunday afternoon meeting with league-leaders and champions Manchester City just days away. Despite defeat to Juve last night, qualification for the knockout stages is not out of the question either, though they need the Italians to lose in Ukraine against Shakhtar Donetsk in two weeks time if they are to have any hope.

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