He may prefer that understated, disarming style of projecting himself, but after more than two years out of the English game, Rafael Benitez walked into Stamford Bridge last night and reminded everyone that, when it comes to it, this man is as tough as they come.
In the space of 40 minutes, he dispatched his former employers Internazionale for having broken promises to him; he reminded everyone that Liverpool's former co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett reached the point where they were not even speaking to one another and he established on more than one occasion he would not have considered managing a mid-table club.
When his credibility was challenged his response was blunt. "Have you seen my CV? I have all the trophies you can win at club level." When it was pointed out to him that he had never won the Premier League, his response was that neither had Pep Guardiola, but both of them had won the Spanish equivalent.
It was not the performance of a man concerned about what the Chelsea supporters may think when he takes his place in the Stamford Bridge home dugout on Sunday for that crucial Premier League game against Manchester City. It was the Benitez of old: unflappable, a man on whom it is impossible to land a blow and one who responded to the toughest questions with a wry amusement. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room when he clarified that he had taken the job having not yet met Roman Abramovich. From Benitez's point of view, he no doubt sees that from the other point of view: that Abramovich is yet to have met him.
Yes, Rafa is back in English football and he is back on a stage which he feels is commensurate with his abilities as a manager. Given that he has waited so long he was certainly not about to be concerned about his unpopularity with the Chelsea support and remarks in 2007 that he said he would "never manage" Chelsea. That was, he said, simply a case of doing what he had to do as a manager: "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. I'm sure the fans here would like to see me doing the same now that I am here, defending their club."
As for his absence from the game, Benitez was keen to point out he had turned down plenty of other offers, "from other continents, for big money, for contracts of three to four years" for a club, preferably in the Premier League, at which he could compete for trophies. It was a theme he returned to more than once.
"When you analyse why you go to a top side like this, for seven months, it's because you can win trophies," he said. "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."
The temporary nature of Benitez's contract is not a status that he appears to recognise. "If you get an opportunity like this, you have to take it," 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."Reuse content