Business as usual at Chelsea after Rafa outburst
Rafael Benitez's tirade against Chelsea's board and supporters appeared to go unpunished Thursday, with the European champions saying it was "business as usual" at the club and indicating he will still be in charge this weekend.
The Spanish coach released three months' worth of pent-up frustration after Chelsea's FA Cup win at Middlesbrough, criticising a section of the fans for their constant stream of abuse and describing the club's decision to make his job title 'interim' manager as "a massive mistake."
Benitez announced during his extraordinary outburst that he would leave the club at the end of the season - when his short-term deal was due to expire - although the incident sparked speculation that he wouldn't last that long, given the reputation of ruthless Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
However, Benitez held a training session with the squad at the club's training base southwest of London and players looked happy as they signed autographs and smiled for pictures in their cars.
Backing up the club's sole official announcement that it was "business as usual," Chelsea confirmed Benitez would be holding his routine news conference on Friday to preview Saturday's match against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League.
Whether his departure is merely being delayed while Abramovich decides his next move remains to be seen. But Benitez's position still remains precarious, having been effectively undermined ever since he agreed to take over as the replacement of the popular Roberto di Matteo on November 21.
Officially named as the team's interim first-team coach, his authority was immediately blunted, with players knowing they were playing for a manager unlikely to be around at the start of next season.
Benitez has also been denied regular access to Abramovich, instead having to go through technical director Michael Emenalo - a low-profile intermediary between the coaching staff and the hierarchy.
And then there is the regular hounding by a core group of Chelsea supporters, who refuse to accept him after his clashes with the club during his spell as Liverpool manager between 2004-10 and because of their ongoing support of Di Matteo.
The jeers began at Benitez's first match in charge, against Manchester City. Many continue to sing the name of Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to its first Champions League title last season. Others have been more nasty and personal.
"Every game, they continue singing and preparing banners, they are wasting their time," Benitez said Wednesday, adding that supporters had an "agenda" against him. "What they have to do is support the team."
After such a public criticism of the fans, they are unlikely to stop now.
Benitez is no stranger to a news conference rant. In 2009, he famously pulled out a hand-written list of so-called "facts" from his pocket, backing up his claim that Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson wasn't punished enough for verbally abusing referees and match officials.
This latest outburst was more calm and reasoned. He unleashed the same criticism in interviews with a television station, BBC radio and then at the post-match news conference after the 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough. That result ended up becoming a mere side note, even though it set up an FA Cup quarterfinal match against Manchester United.
He appeared to require little prompting by journalists, so it could have been a pre-planned attack on the fans who he vowed he would win over on the day he started the job.
That hasn't happened and probably never will. Chelsea fans spent much of the Middlesbrough match singing: "We don't care about Rafa, he doesn't care about us. All we care about is Chelsea FC."
Since Benitez joined, Chelsea has been eliminated from the Champions League, League Cup and lost in the final of the Club World Cup. The team was third in the Premier League, four points behind leader Man City, on his arrival but is now fourth and 19 points adrift of Manchester United, the new leaders. In his three months, Chelsea has won 14 of 27 matches in all competitions.
Chelsea could drop out of the top four, and therefore jeopardize the team's chances of qualifying for the Champions League next season, if it fails to beat West Brom at Stamford Bridge.