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
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
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

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash