Rafael Benitez last night declared working for Roman Abramovich would be “easier” than for George Gillett and Tom Hicks, despite admitting he had never even spoken to the
Benitez had no fears about putting himself in the crosshairs of football’s most demanding boss or that he had only been appointed manager on an interim basis until the end of the season.
But it was the revelation of him having had no contact whatsoever with Abramovich that raised the most eyebrows considering reports of how intently the Russian courted Pep Guardiola prior to settling on his fellow Spaniard.
“I will meet him today,” Benitez said of Abramovich after being unveiled as the Russian’s ninth manager in just over eight years. “The main thing is that I have spoken to Michael Emanalo, the technical director, and he’s my link. I like to speak about football with him. That’s my priority.”
Roberto Di Matteo was the latest victim of Abramovich’s trigger finger in the early hours of Wednesday morning but his replacement claimed it would be less stressful working for the Russian than under his former bosses at Liverpool.
Benitez’s relationship with ousted Anfield chiefs Hicks and Gillett eventually led to his departure two years ago and he said: “If you have two bosses who aren’t talking to each other, it’s difficult. You want a striker and one of them says: ‘I don’t know’. This will be easier.”
However, Benitez’s lack of contact with Abramovich was telling, especially as he reportedly rejected the chance to become interim manager prior to Di Matteo’s appointment in March.
Despite being given the same terms this week, he signed on, having been out of the game for two years. He said: “I don’t care about short-term. I have to win every game. We have five trophies to fight for. I will try from day one. In football and life, you never know. If we win some trophies in seven months, everybody will be delighted.”
Delighted enough for Benitez to keep his job when former Barcelona boss Guardiola ends his one-year sabbatical from the game? “At this moment, I’m here, I got the job,” Benitez said. “Winning games is a guarantee for everything. If you can do it in a row, you can win trophies. We have won nine trophies. Can we win more? If I go to another country or continent, or a mid-table team, I could do a great job and not win trophies. Here there are five trophies to win.”
Benitez could not escape the suggestion he was only keeping the seat warm for Abramovich’s No 1 target.
“I have a very good relationship with Guardiola, a great manager,” he added.
“What will happen in the future, you never know. For nearly two years, I was waiting for the right opportunity. Now I have this chance. I have to do my best to try and take it.”
He added: “I don’t need to win trophies. I would like to win trophies.”
Even that has not proven to be enough for Abramovich, who sacked Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Di Matteo after they had all delivered unprecedented success to Chelsea. The Russian is said to want to see “Barcelona in blue shirts” at Stamford Bridge. “I don’t know about the style he wants, but he’ll be happy with the team winning,” said Benitez, who has a reputation for playing a more cautious game. “It’s not about one way to play. Michael told me we have a good team and they trust me. He knew me at Valencia, and we played against Chelsea so many times. At Valencia, winning the Spanish league after 31 years, it wasn’t bad. If we play like Valencia, we can win and he’ll be happy anyway.”
Abramovich is also said to have other demands, such as playing Fernando Torres. “He is a top-class player and, with his attitude, he will do it,” said Benitez.