Rafael Benitez on the brink at Chelsea after attacking owner Roman Abramovich and supporters
Rafael Benítez launched an astonishing attack on Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich for calling him an interim manager and warned the supporters who continue to barrack him that they will ruin the club.
Although Chelsea came through a tricky FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough on Wednesday without any major incident to book a quarter-final meeting with Manchester United, the chances of Benítez remaining in charge are somewhere between minute and non-existent.
Chelsea have stated that it's "business as usual" this morning, but it remains to be seen if Benítez will still be in charge for Saturday's Barclays Premier League clash with West Brom.
The Spaniard may well have been able to limp on to the end of the season had he merely targeted the “group of supporters with an agenda” against him, but by directly criticising Abramovich and the Chelsea board for giving him the title interim manager he appears to have delivered the verbal equivalent of a suicide note.
“There is a group of fans who are not doing any favours for the team,” said Benítez, his face flushed with anger. They are singing about me and wasting time making banners because somebody made a mistake and put an interim in front of my title as manager. I will leave at the end of the season so why waste time on me?
“Everybody is an interim manager because after you comes another one. Why put interim? It’s just to say to everyone, he was at Liverpool, he’s just interim.
“I’ve said it, I can’t change the title or the perceptions, it doesn’t matter now. I will continue to give 100 per cent, the people who run the club know I am trying to do my best.
“Somebody decided my title would be interim, why I don’t know. Maybe they want to blame me for everything that is wrong, we will put interim in front just in case. Everybody has to take responsibility.
“If we are in the Champions League great, but I will leave anyway. It’s in my contract, don’t worry about me. The interim title was a surprise to me.
“Somebody decided to do that, I don’t know who, but it was a mistake. I’m the manager and I will be the manager until somebody decides otherwise. It might be June.”
Whatever has happened behind the scenes this week has shattered Benítez’s calm exterior and he is likely to become the third Chelsea manager to lose his job after a win and the 10th in total since Abramovich took control in the summer of 2003.
Although there were anti-Benítez chants from the travelling supporters on Teesside, they were not as loud or as sustained as they have been in the past, but something has made him snap.
That may have been a perceived lack of support from above, it may be to do with players undermining his authority by leaking details of heated training ground discussions to the media.
Abramovich, though, has a difficult decision to make.
Chelsea are competing for two trophies, the FA Cup and the Europa League, as well as a top-four finish in the Premier League and another change in manager would be a disruptive distraction.
Nevertheless, the Russian does not take prisoners and with a previous interim manager, Avram Grant, out of work he would be the obvious choice to step in until June.
“I have been in charge of football clubs for 26 years,” added Benítez. “I’ve won the Champions League, World Super Cup, I’ve won the FA Cup, the Spanish title and Italian Super Cup.
“I have won nine major trophies at the top level. I’ve got the experience not to worry what fans with an agenda say.
“If there is a negative atmosphere at Stamford Bridge we cannot achieve what we are expected to achieve, finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League.
“I will leave and they will be in the Europa League and they will have to take responsibility too. If you put pressure on the players at Stamford Bridge they have to realise they are making a big mistake because they won’t see the team in the Champions League next year.
“It will be much better for everyone to have a good atmosphere and support the team, back the players. I’m the manager and I will manage the team, I will pick my team and make decisions and then I will leave because I am interim manager.”
Remarkably, when repeatedly asked whether he would stay at Stamford Bridge should the club remove the interim from his job title and offer a new contract, Benítez refused to rule it out. He probably already knows it is impossible.
“I’m really pleased to be here at Chelsea, it’s a very good group of players who are working hard. It’s a top club. They are not the problem, it’s a group of fans who want to say what they want and not support the team.
“They put the title interim so why do we have to bother about this? Just support the team. It’s a team in transition – they don’t realise. In the past, we had Drogba, Essien, Kalou, these players, it was a very strong squad, players with experience in the Premier League.
“Now we have a group of players with talent, really good players with talent, but they need time. It’s a time of transition. But they don’t realise it was a time of transition when I came here.
“The team was not in the Champions League, the team has lost some trophies, so I am trying to do my best and I will try to do my best until the end, until the last minute.”