Rafa Benitez claimed yesterday that a number of his Chelsea players had given him their private support after his Wednesday-night broadside against the club’s supporters and board, as the interim manager tried to calm another explosive few days at Chelsea.
With a combustible atmosphere awaiting him against West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge today, Benitez said he had support in his appeal to Chelsea fans to get behind the team despite his unpopularity. Asked yesterday whether players had backed him, Benitez replied: “A lot of the players have been supporting me, telling me ‘listen, carry on doing your job’. That is my private conversations.”
Later Benitez said that suggestions of discontent were not representative of the whole squad but did not deny that some are unhappy. “The majority of them are happy with the training sessions,” he said. “We try and do our best, and sometimes we cannot, but I think they are quite happy.
“[Reporters] may speak with one or two, but there are another 21. If you have 25 players, you’ll obviously have one or two who aren’t happy, but you can find that in every squad.”
Benitez tried to steer away from the controversy he whipped up earlier in the week. He urged the club’s fans and players to “stick together”, using that particular phrase itself 10 times, determined to stay on message.
Having accused the board of a “massive mistake” over his interim manager’s title, Benitez claimed he had no problems with the club’s hierarchy.
He said: “The message is clear. I didn’t have any problem with the board. I didn’t have any problem with Michael Emenalo [technical director]. I didn’t have problems with Roman Abramovich. Or the players. I want to do the best for the team and the club. I have been training and coaching for 26 years. I have always had principles, respect and education.”
On the subject of John Terry, who has started just eight games since the start of October in a season plagued by a knee injury, Benitez said he alone would decide when his captain was fit and that, in the past, the defender’s failure to complete training precluded him from playing games.
Terry has been cited as one of the key malcontents in recent weeks, something that Benitez denied. “If he completes more [training sessions], he’ll be fine. We had a specific plan created for him, and he couldn’t complete two or three sessions. It was taking too long.”
Benitez added: “He’s an important player. He has quality, he is captain. I will decide whether he can play two games a week with the intensity.”