Bravado of old as Benitez makes bow

Chelsea's new manager is in bullish mood as he stresses the need for trophies to ensure his stay at Stamford Bridge is lengthy

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 might think when he takes his place in the Stamford Bridge home dugout at 4pm 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, the man whose opinion is all that matters when it comes to this particular show. 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 in the build-up to the Champions League semi-final. 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. It's more a manager defending his team. I'm sure the fans here would like to see me doing the same now that I am here, defending their club."

The disillusionment with him from the Chelsea support is, however, very real and while it appears not to matter to Benitez, it will become uncomfortable for the club if results do not go well. As an individual, he is impervious to that sort of pressure. The ultimate rationalist, he reasoned that once a team begins winning then all the problems go away, but then this has never been a club that had followed any kind of rationale.

What was evident was that his relationship with technical director Michael Emenalo would be key to his success at Chelsea. In the past, the technical director has been a source of friction for Benitez, not least at Valencia, and subsequently at Liverpool he saw off all attempts to curb his power when it came to the acquisition of players. Nevertheless, he mentioned Emenalo more than once as the man from whom he would take his lead.

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, which has been pointedly described by the club as "interim" is not a status that he appears to recognise. As ever he believes fervently in his own ability and that he will still be in a position to manage the team come the end of the season. The notion of short term, he intimated, simply does not apply to him.

"If you get an opportunity like this, you have to take it. 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."

Holed up in his Wirral mansion for the last two years since he was sacked by Inter, he said he did not even consider himself to have been out the game. "Out of the game is not out of the game, when you've been analysing games every weekend," he said.

"I was there, perhaps not on the pitch, but my passion for the game and forward thinking is still there. I haven't lost anything. And it's the opposite: I have more desire and trophies now than ever before."

There were the inevitable questions about Fernando Torres, whose best years Benitez will for ever be connected, because he signed the player at Liverpool in 2007. The strength of that relationship has always been based on what Torres said about the influence of Benitez in an interview some time ago but there are doubts about how strongly it endured. As ever, Benitez was dismissive of questions of how he should win or with what players he should win with.

"I am not sure about what you read or hear. When I spoke with Michael Emenalo, he didn't say you had to do this or that. He just said, 'Listen, we trust you with anything you can do well, and you can do well with these players'. I didn't hear anything from him about having to do this or that against your principles about winning games."

He has stepped into the crucible that is modern Chelsea, with its enormous expectations and its overwhelming pressure. But there was much to suggest yesterday that Chelsea have also taken on something of a challenge themselves.

'I would never take that job': Rafa on Chelsea

Rafael Benitez has not always been so keen on Chelsea, saying the following in 2007:

"Chelsea is a big club with fantastic players, every manager wants to coach a big team. But I would never take that job, in respect for my former team at Liverpool, no matter what. For me there is only one club in England, and that's Liverpool. "If Chelsea are naive and pure then I'm Little Red Riding Hood."

Juan Mata is looking forward to working with his compatriot:

"Rafa Benitez is a great coach. He's got lots of experience and won a lot of trophies with Liverpool, taking them to a very high level. He knows the Premier League too."

News
people

Arts and Entertainment
JJ Abrams' seventh Star Wars, The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of Episode VII has gone online after weeks of anticipation
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
art

Presents unwrapped, turkey gobbled... it's time to relax

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game