Chelsea legends ushered to exit
RAFAEL BENITEZ has given the clearest signal yet that Chelsea's old guard will be jettisoned after he praised the club's "legends" for their service, but insisted that new blood was essential to bring more silverware to Stamford Bridge.
Roman Abramovich, the club's owner, is committed to attracting a new generation of talent as he searches for a style that is both progressive and successful. That process that will involve dismantling the last season's Champions League-winning team, many of whom joined the club under Jose Mourinho.
Frank Lampard is the first guaranteed casualty, with his agent confirming at the weekend that he had been told that the England international would not be offered a new contract when his deal expired at the end of the season.
The clear-out looks likely to claim Ashley Cole, also in the last year of his contract. John Terry and Petr Cech are also set to find their futures closely scrutinised as they approach the end of their deals.
Between them, the quartet have played more than 1,700 games for Chelsea, but Benitez said that they had to accept a new generation of players was required to carry the club forward.
The Spaniard is only the interim manager at Stamford Bridge and has limited input into transfer dealings, but he is close enough to the hierarchy to know that Abramovich is committed to change.
"It's easy to talk about the legends, and you have to have a lot of respect for them," Benitez said.
"What they've achieved for this club has been fantastic. But you have to have new players, English or foreign, it doesn't matter, and carry on winning games.
"That's what the fans are expecting. Everyone knows the legends have been here and what they have achieved, but you have to see new players coming. It's part of life."
Speaking on the eve of the first leg of their league cup semi-final against Swansea, which could offer Benitez a route to his first trophy as Chelsea manager, the Spaniard insisted that the club was determined to evolve.
"I was not here so I cannot talk about the past, but I can see the club is changing things for the future, thinking about being successful again. It's not just: 'Oh, we won,' and that's it," he said.
"You have to keep winning as much as you can, you can't think, 'That's it, we've won now.' You have to keep evolving. That means you have to keep bringing in good new players.
"If you want to keep winning, to have the winning mentality, you need the new generation pushing you. Chelsea are managing this situation because they were successful.
"Every year, you have to bring in someone else. The English question is something you have to consider, but this year you have three or four players, you have Hazard, Oscar, Piazon and Marin who came last summer, and they will need some time. That is part of the evolution of the team."
While Abramovich and his advisers consider the medium term, Benitez's is preoccupied with winning something in the five months remaining on his contract, starting with the league cup.
After a breathless and unpopular start to his tenure that has prompted boos from Chelsea fans and defeat in the Club World Cup final, January offers winnable fixtures, a squad strengthened by the arrival of Demba Ba and potential deals involving Metalist Kharkiv's Brazilian midfielder Taison and Corinthians' Paulinho.
Benitez believes Ba's arrival will help to revive Fernando Torres and offer the Spaniard a much-needed break having been effectively the club's only trusted centre-forward this season.
"It will be positive for both," he said. "They will be fitter, maybe they will score more goals because they will have more chances and will be in better positions.
"We were talking with them both. They know the role of the other. They know they'll have a lot of games and will have a big part to play. They will be fine. That is the positive: both can do well."
Having lost the 2005 league cup final as Liverpool manager to Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, Benitez is keen on a return to the showpiece game, but admitted that Swansea present stiff opposition (© Daily Telegraph, London)
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