Benitez lightens mood as Chelsea take on the World
Chelsea enjoyed a team-bonding session in Yokohama, Japan, which ended up with Ashley Cole serving his team-mates supper as a forfeit for losing at tenpin bowling.
"He's a better left-back than waiter," observed Gary Cahill.
Cole made an unlikely Manuel, although the players refused to tip him because they questioned the quality of his service, something they would certainly never do on the pitch.
The evening's events were designed partly to combat jet-lag and also because their interim first-team coach, Rafael Benitez, wanted them to strike up an even stronger relationship as a squad.
"We went out and had a bit of a team-bonding session, bowling, so that was good,'' Cahill said. "It was in an amusement centre. It wasn't far away from the hotel. It was good to get out for an hour instead of going stir crazy in the hotel. We had most of the lanes because it was quite a small place.
"Everyone played, the manager, staff, everyone. The standard was all right – there were a few strikes. Whoever lost had to serve dinner at the hotel and it was Ashley Cole."
Did he get a tip? "The only tip was: 'don't do it again'."
Cole, Cahill and company face Monterrey today for the right to play Corinthians in the Club World Cup final. Tackling jet-lag has invariably been an issue for English club teams rushing in and out of here for the contest with the champions of South America.
Before the Toyota Cup final in December 1981, Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish, Terry McDermott and Alan Hansen were so bemused by the time difference they headed out from their hotel at 3.0am, found a three-tier driving range and hit balls for half an hour. They struggled and were ripped apart by Zico's Flamengo.
Chelsea have done it on trips before. "When Andre Villas-Boas was here we went paintballing and in America we went out for a meal, all looking the same in Dolce and Gabbana chinos," Cahill said.
"It was just good fun. We've got a games room set up in the hotel with Fifa computer games and table tennis so you're not stuck in your room."
Chelsea have been well received, with 300-plus fans waiting outside their hotel, cameras at the ready, and a mix of cuisine in the hotel.
"They've treated us nicely," Cahill said. "The food's very different. We've got our in-house person overlooking the food, but it's been half the old pasta and chicken and half the Japanese style. So, we have eaten some Japanese food.
"But we're not here on holiday. We're here for a reason. The Brazilian lads (David Luiz, Oscar, Ramires) have been telling us that the Club World Cup is really huge in their country.
"They were showing us videos on YouTube of the send-off for Corinthians at the airport. It was huge. And since we've been here, the support of the fans around the hotel has been huge as well."
Benitez has been drilling the players hard. "He has put his points across. Robbie (Di Matteo) did fantastic as well to win so much in such a short space of time. It's been a tough few weeks to be aware of the way Rafa works and what he expects. You can see that coming together now."
Benitez has been trying to get the balance right between attack and defence.
"Everyone is aware of the attacking flair players we have in our team, what's important is reacting when we lose possession, that we don't just give it away, that we respond and get back into a shape, get back compact, so there's not so much space and gaps around," Cahill said.
"We look more solid now as a team and as a unit.
"Everyone knows what is expected of them, not only when we have the ball, but also when we don't have the ball."
Cahill enjoyed Didier Drogba's visit to the squad in London last week when the much-loved former Chelsea striker gave the players expensive rings to celebrate their Champions League success.
"I was very touched," Cahill said. "It was very generous. No one needs to go out and do that, not just for us but for the staff as well. It shows what his character is, he is a great lad.
"It reminds us of what a great achievement it was. He said that's why he did it, so that none of us forget what a huge achievement it was. It's something I'll keep for the rest of my life. It's not a ring I'd wear. I'm not flashy. It's more of a memento."
As for striker Daniel Sturridge being a transfer target for the Blues manager's former club Liverpool, Benitez said: "I know there has been some contact." (© Daily Telegraph, London)