RAFAEL BENITEZ was today awaiting the fallout from an astonishing broadside launched in the wake of Chelsea's FA Cup victory at Middlesbrough.
Minutes after seeing his side book a quarter-final showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford, the Spaniard turned on the men who gave him the title of 'interim manager' when he succeeded Roberto di Matteo in November, and those fans who have never forgiven him for guiding Liverpool to the 2005 Champions League final at the Blues' expense.
His comments are unlikely to go down well with owner Roman Abramovich, although Benitez seemed unconcerned as he confirmed he will be leaving the club at the end of the season regardless.
Benitez said: "I have a title. Someone decided the title would be 'interim'. Why? Just in case?
"If they want to blame me for everything that is wrong and then they say, 'We will put interim just in case', fine, that is your decision.
"I don't agree, but it's your decision and now everybody has to take responsibility. If we are in the Champions League, I will be the happiest man in the world.
"But next year, I will leave anyway because I have finished my contract, so they (his critics) don't need to be worried about me. What they have to do is concentrate on supporting the team.
"I have a contract until the end of the season, that's it, so they don't need to be worried about me."
Benitez insisted the fans who once again chanted against him at the Riverside Stadium are in the minority, but urged them to look at the bigger picture.
He said: "It's a team in transition – they don't realise. In the past, we had (Didier) Drogba, (Michael) Essien, (Salomon) 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. It doesn't matter what they say. I am a professional, I have experience and I will do my best.
"But if they carry on in the same way, they have to take responsibility because they are damaging the image of the club and the fans because people think all the fans are the same.
"The Chelsea fans are really good, they support the team, but if they continue with their agenda, I don't think they do any favours to the team."
The game was demoted to the ranks of sideshow by what followed, but on the pitch, Chelsea stepped up a gear after an ordinary first half to claim victory.
They went ahead six minutes after the break when Ramires' shot clipped Fernando Torres and flew into the top corner, and Victor Moses made sure with a second from close range 15 minutes from time.