New Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez looks to win over fans
Rafael Benitez is set to begin the challenge of winning round Chelsea's players and fans - as well as proving himself to the only man who matters at the club.
Wednesday night saw Roman Abramovich completed arguably his most controversial day yet at Stamford Bridge after appointing Benitez to succeed Roberto Di Matteo as manager. The Russian handed the former Liverpool boss a contract until the end of the season, having seemingly been unable to woo the man said to be his number one target.
Confirming new "interim" boss Benitez would meet Chelsea's players on Thursday, the European champions said in a statement: "Chelsea Football Club can confirm Rafael Benitez has been appointed interim first-team manager until the end of the season."
The club added: "The owner and the board believe that, in Benitez, we have a manager with significant experience at the highest level of football, who can come in and immediately help deliver our objectives."
The length of Benitez's contract appeared the clearest indication yet of Abramovich's determination to land Pep Guardiola once the former Barcelona boss completes his one-year sabbatical.
And it would be no exaggeration to say Benitez would be the least popular of his appointments judging by the reaction of Chelsea supporters on social media. But all that failed to deter Benitez, who agreed his Chelsea contract during a trip to Abu Dhabi and will look to convince them or another big club to give him a longer-term deal.
It is impossible not to deduce part of Benitez's appeal to Abramovich was his relationship with Â£50million flop Fernando Torres, who he helped make one of the best strikers in the world at Liverpool.
Benitez told Sport360 shortly before his appointment: "I think you can see in his face that he is almost trying too hard. But I think the potential is still there. The problem with some players is that they are doing so well in a team and the understanding is so good that it is difficult to replicate that in another team."
Di Matteo finally lost patience with Torres in his last match in charge but he expressed few regrets about his unparalleled eight-month tenure on Wednesday night.
"It was an honour for me to be appointed manager of a club that I loved playing for and one that is so close to my heart," he said in a statement issued by the League Managers Association. "I am extremely proud of the successes and trophies that we were able to bring to the club in recent months."
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