Chelsea v Rubin Kazan: Rafa Benitez wants to manage 'top English club' next season
His Chelsea side play in the Europa League tonight
Thursday 04 April 2013
Rafa Benitez, the Chelsea interim manager, wants to continue coaching in England, no matter how he fares at Stamford Bridge.
The Spaniard, an unpopular appointment due to his association with Liverpool, declined to look too far beyond winning the next game – against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League tonight – but felt compelled to comment on his own future. He knows delivering Champions League football is imperative, but with the club in the FA Cup semi-finals, his hopes of marking his short reign with silverware look promising.
Benitez, who revealed in February he will be leaving at the end of his spell in May, said: "If we can achieve trophies and finish in the top three, fantastic. Everybody will be happy. That is my aim at the moment."
As for his own future, he added: "I like to win, to challenge for trophies. I would like to stay in a top side. A top side, why not in England?"
Benitez also dismissed Ray Wilkins' criticism of his handling of Ashley Cole's fitness as an April Fools' Day joke before tonight's quarter-final first leg. Rarely reluctant to engage in verbal sparring with his critics, be they fellow managers or the media, his antipathy towards Jose Mourinho, whose name continues to be linked with a Stamford Bridge return, is no secret.
Yet Wilkins' own credentials as a former Chelsea captain, caretaker manager and, most recently, Carlo Ancelotti's assistant, did not spare him from the soft-spoken wrath of the smiling Spaniard.
Wilkins had told a radio station he believed Cole's hamstring injury, which was sustained early in Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay victory over Manchester United and will keep him out of both legs against the Russians, was the direct result of being omitted from Saturday's 2-1 Premier League defeat at Southampton. "I honestly feel he has to play all the time," he said. "[Cole] is one of these machines. You have to keep it well oiled and it will fly. Had he played on Saturday, he wouldn't have done that."
Benitez had also been accused of being more interested in adding to the "trophies won" column of his CV than steering the club into next season's Champions League, when another manager will have taken over.
"I thought it was the first of April," Benitez said. "You can't take the comments seriously. I have a degree in sports science from Spain, have spoken to many people about injuries. It's the first time I ever heard anything like this. First of April."
Wilkins, who was handed the Chelsea captaincy in the 1970s aged just 18, was not the only Stamford Bridge legend to be discussed before the Rubin Kazan tie, as Benitez also claimed he had made Frank Lampard a better player. "A lot of players are growing," he said in response to a question about Ryan Bertrand, who will fill in at left-back until Cole regains fitness. "And I will tell you one other name who is improving a lot – Frank Lampard, because he is scoring a lot of goals."
So Benitez has improved, in just a few weeks, a 34-year-old who has almost 100 international caps and has scored 200 goals for his current club? This, it turned out, was merely a little joke rather than the latest "fact".
"I was waiting for someone to show an interest in that," he said. "What I meant was that he has been playing very well. When I came he was injured. He was scoring goals at the beginning of the season and is scoring goals after that so he has improved during this season."
Chelsea v Rubin Kazan
Kick-off 8.05pm, Stamford Bridge
Referee G Rocchi (It)
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