x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rafael Benitez named Chelsea interim manager following Di Matteo sacking

The former Liverpool manager has been handed the reigns at Stamford Bridge until the end of the season, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Rafael Benitez, who was at a coaching seminar in Abu Dhabi today, has guided Liverpool to Champions League success. Sammy Dallal / The National
Rafael Benitez, who was at a coaching seminar in Abu Dhabi today, has guided Liverpool to Champions League success. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Rafael Benitez flew out of Abu Dhabi to take over as Chelsea interim manager and succeed Roberto Di Matteo. The Italian was dismissed following the side's 3-0 defeat to Juventus in the Champions League the previous evening.

Speculation that the former Valencia and Liverpool manager was approached by Chelsea began immediately after the match.

Benitez, who was in Abu Dhabi to talk at a coaching seminar arranged by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, had refused to reveal whether there had been contact when the Di Matteo decision was announced, but said that Chelsea would fit the criteria of the kind of club he would return to management for.

"Obviously, it is a top side and they can compete for trophies so it falls in this category," he said.

"What I will say is that I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies, so Chelsea is one of these clubs. I cannot answer directly [whether they have been in touch]. A lot of people are talking so we will see what happens in the next days."

The possibility that Benitez is offered the role on a caretaker basis until the end of the season – to keep the seat warm for Pep Guardiola, the former Barcelona coach, perhaps – had also been raised, but Benitez was non-committal on whether he would take on such a role, or indeed on the prospect of working for an owner who has gone through eight managers in 10 seasons.

"To be fair, I don't know. I have to talk to my agent and see what he has been doing in the last couple of days. I am just trying to have a team that can win so we will find ways if you have challenges like this."

Earlier in the day, during the seminar just before the news of Di Matteo's removal from his post was confirmed, Benitez had said his "next challenge was close".

The chance to coach again in England would be immensely attractive to a man who has set up home in the country; his family are said to consider Liverpool home.

Benitez said that he had been close to taking up assignments over the past two years, possibly at Premier League clubs, but insisted that the prospect of being able to work on a "project" was vital.

"I had some good offers but again I would say [there has to be a] project and good opportunities, [from] a very serious club but somewhere I have to say I can go on and try to win."

Despite being outside top-flight football since his stint with Inter Milan came to an end in December 2010, Benitez has kept himself busy with his website and a new book Champions League Dreams.

"I was trying to always be involved in football, analysing games," he said. "I would prefer to be on the pitch but if you cannot you have to be in contact with football at the top level."

He said the reason he has not coached in nearly two years "is that you are looking for a top side that can challenge for trophies, because there are not too many top sides that can challenge, so I had to wait".

Reaction to Benitez being appointed at Stamford Bridge was mixed.  Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho wished him well in the job, saying: "I like my old clubs to win.

"I always wish the managers of my former clubs well so I always wish good luck to managers of my former clubs.

"I wish good luck to Benitez."

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted surprise that the former Liverpool and Inter coach would take on a short-term post.

"[It] is a surprise as well because Rafael Benitez is a guy who has a record," he said.

"He is a manager of stature and it is a surprise he is appointed for such a short time. I am surprised as well he accepted that."

And Trizia Fiorellino, chair of the Chelsea Supporters Group, warned:

the chair of Chelsea Supporters Group, Trizia Fiorellino "Benitez will just not be accepted by Chelsea supporters.

"I don't think Benitez is a good manager, he's been out of work for two years now. If he was any good, why hasn't any other club snapped him up?"

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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