Monday 11 December 2017

Cech insists player power will remain part of Chelsea life

Chelsea 1 West Brom 0 Paul Kelso

There is a mixed inheritance awaiting someone at Chelsea this summer.

Whoever replaces Rafael Benitez in the Premier League's hottest seat will take charge of a richly talented group of players and a budget to address its few limitations.

If only it were that simple. The next manager will also find in the current group a wilful core of experienced players, hardened by Roman Abramovich-era Chelsea internal politics.

To take them on or win them over is the question that faces every Chelsea manager and often decides their fate. Benitez walked that fine line this week after a training-ground debate went public and he criticised the fans who continue to abuse him.

The issue is likely to return after John Terry was dropped on Saturday despite being, in the manager's words, fully fit.

Heat

After a victory against West Brom that reduced the heat marginally, Petr Cech said player power would remain a fact of Stamford Bridge life. Cech, who said he would welcome back the "fantastic" Jose Mourinho were he appointed the next manager, claimed honesty was the key to Chelsea's success.

"We had a lot of success thanks to the honesty and open mind everyone has in the dressing-room," he said.

"Everybody should have a chance to express an opinion. This is why when we see something is going wrong people have the right to express themselves and say 'we think this is wrong, we should improve that'.

"Obviously we have only one boss, that is the manager and it is up to him if he wants to listen to what the players say or find his own way to go through."

With Terry banned or injured for much of this season, Cech has been the soul of the Chelsea dressing-room.

After the defeat in the reverse fixture against West Brom last November that signalled the end of Roberto Di Matteo's reign, it was Cech who took the dressing-room to task. He claimed he had not had to do the same last week and said that, contrary to perception, honesty had helped contribute to a positive week on the training ground.

"We try to stick together, to find solutions, to work hard and to get through the difficult moment every time. This is the moment when we are not doing exactly as we want to do but we are willing to change the situation. Everyone – coaching staff, us – are trying to change the situation."

Cech said that, after nine seasons at Stamford Bridge, little has the power to shock and argued that permanent revolution had not stopped the trophies rolling in.

"You can argue with a lot of things but in the same period of time we have won more or less the same number of trophies as Manchester United," said Cech.

"They had one manager, we had eight, and we won the same trophies. Arsenal had the same manager and it is a long time since they won something.

"Maybe if you asked them if they would rather have 10 managers and six trophies I don't know what they would say, but it is always relative. We do it our way, the other clubs do it their way, and it seems to work so far so long may it continue."

Despite this, Cech hoped that the next manager, who he said could be Mourinho, is given the most precious commodity of all: time. "We had fantastic success with (Mourinho) so why not, he is a fantastic manager.

"But I hope whoever comes to take the job in the end I hope he will have better luck and that he will stay."

That is not an option for interim manager Benitez, who remains unloved by a rump of Stamford Bridge regulars and loathed by a minority.

Interim, interim, they all have it interim, but on the evidence of this match on Saturday they are not about to make life impossible.

There was a smattering of banners and some lusty chants in opposition, but in truth Chelsea fans do not know whether to stick or twist.

Their team played some wonderfully fluent football, with Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, who should have had a hat-trick, prominent.

But the fans seemed reluctant to cheer it in case it was misinterpreted as support for the manager. The result was a half-hearted, disgruntled atmosphere that spoke volumes.

Nerves

That turned to nerves in the last 15 minutes as Albion threatened to punish Chelsea's failure to add to Demba Ba's 28th-minute tap-in. An equaliser would have quickly turned the mood ugly but Benitez was grateful to find Cech in outstanding form.

Four times in the last 10 minutes he was called on as West Brom and Peter Odemwingie pressed for a point, most impressively when palming away an inadvertent goal-bound header from Cesar Azpilicueta.

No wonder Benitez named his goalkeeper as man of the match. Wisely, with games against Steaua Bucharest and Manchester United to come in the next week, the 'interim' manager declined to look further ahead.

"I'm really pleased after winning without thinking what will happen in the future," he said. "We had to produce a good game, we did it. The players enjoyed it, the fans were behind the team. Everything was positive. What will happen in the next week, I don't know." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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