Rafa Benitez sets goal of becoming unsackable at Chelsea
RAFA Benitez has taken the reins of Chelsea knowing he has seven months to prove to Roman Abramovich that he can do it on a permanent basis.
Starting with Sunday's big game at home to Manchester City, Benitez must quickly try to render himself unsackable – just as Roberto Di Matteo was for a few weeks after the club's first Champions League triumph in May.
Several managers have tried to tame Abramovich's power at Stamford Bridge and all have ended up on the floor, but Benitez's innate self-belief will give him a head-start.
Despite the fact that Chelsea fans were carrying anti-Benitez banners on day one at the gates of the club's Cobham training complex, the "interim" manager is intent on getting down to business.
The ex-Liverpool boss even admitted last night that didn't have time to meet Abramovich – the owner who has removed seven managers in eight years – but said it would be "easier" at Chelsea than working for two owners at Anfield.
"I will meet (Abramovich) today," Benitez said. "The main thing is that I have spoken to Michael Emenalo, the technical director and he is my link. I like to speak about football with him. That's my priority."
Benitez would not comment on the news that Mark Clattenburg had been cleared following accusations of racial abuse. 'Prospect,' the referees' union, have called for an apology, compensation and a charity donation from the London club. "I want to concentrate on football issues if I can," Benitez said.
The former Intern Milan boss hopes he will forge a good working relationship with Abramovich. "Hopefully, I will see the owner and talk about things," he said.
"The info I have from different people is that he likes to see his team playing good football, but he's not involved every day, telling the manager to do this or that. He just wants to see the team playing well."
Joining the new man at Stamford Bridge will be former Liverpool and Chelsea midfielder Boudewijn Zenden as well as coaches Paco de Miguel and Xavi Valero.
While Benitez is only the interim manager, with a contract until the end of the season, he insists that his future lies in his hands. "If I do well and win trophies, I'd be really happy and then we will see," he said.
"At this moment I'm here. I got the job. This is very simple: winning games. Winning games is a guarantee for everything – if you can win them in a row, you can win trophies."
The appointment of Benitez was unpopular with some Chelsea fans, given comments made in the past, but he defended his remarks.
"We were playing against Chelsea, a top side, in the semi-finals of the Champions League," he explained. "If I'm a fan, I'd like to see my manager fighting for my team, my club, and doing almost everything. So I don't think it's a lack of respect for the Chelsea fans.
"It's more a manager defending his team. I'm sure the fans here would like to see me doing the same now that I am here, defending their club."
The Spaniard will have to work out how he handles the expectations concerning Fernando Torres, the Mark Clattenburg fallout, and the style and shape of the team, which have improved since Andre Villas-Boas tried to alter too much too quickly.
The one thing the Champions League-winning manager can be sure of is that there is no proven survival manual.
Jose Mourinho was the best manager in Chelsea's history, but was sacked. Carlo Ancelotti won a league and FA Cup double, but took a bullet 12 months later.
Benitez can't even be sure he will still be Chelsea boss next August even if he wins the Premier League.
And, does he stick with Di Matteo's system or revert to a more cautious style? If he does that, how will it go down with Mata, Oscar, Hazard and Abramovich?
Also, he is unlikely to go out of his way to indulge John Terry, the kind of barrack-room sergeant the new manager never tolerated at Liverpool.
One thing in his favour is a rhino skin. He is a strong man in a thoroughly weak position. (© Independent News Service)