Rafa Benitez takes Chelsea hot seat as Roberto Di Matteo sacking draws flak

Ex-Liverpool coach becomes ninth Blues boss of Abramovich era as fellow managers condemn Di Matteo sacking and fans give cold shoulder

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 November, 2012, 2:12am


Newly appointed as Chelsea's latest interim coach, Rafael Benitez could be forgiven for wondering whether he has accepted a poisoned chalice.

The dismissal of Roberto Di Matteo on Wednesday means eight coaches have now been and gone during the nine-year tenure of owner Roman Abramovich.

Di Matteo's peers queued up to condemn Abramovich's trigger-happy style, while fans are far from convinced by Benitez, given he used to be in charge of Chelsea's hated rivals Liverpool.

The previous man to get the bullet, Andre Villas-Boas, said he was not that surprised Di Matteo had followed him out of Stamford Bridge. "At Chelsea, I think another sacking is just like any other day at the office. That's my interpretation," the Spurs coach said. "[Di Matteo] has achieved so much in such a little amount of time. His CV is maybe one of the best in the world now - he has won the Champions League and the FA Cup, too.

"It was difficult for Robbie and I wish him well for the rest of his career," he added.

The sacking was also criticised by Arsene Wenger.

"I find it surprising and very sad, personally. I believe it is important on our side to show loyalty," said the Arsenal boss. "He did well and there wasn't even any time this season. It is a complete surprise and very sad news."

Wenger was also surprised that Benitez agreed to replace Di Matteo on a short-term contract.

"He is a guy with a good record and a manager of stature," Wenger said. "It is a surprise he is appointed for such a short time, and I'm surprised he accepted it."

Ex-Blues boss Jose Mourinho was dismayed by Di Matteo's sacking but wished Benitez luck.

"I'm never happy when a manager is sacked," the Real Madrid boss said. "Because if it happens to them, it can happen to me … I always feel sorry for him and his family, because our lives are very, very similar.

"I like [my former clubs] to win, so I always wish good to the managers of my former clubs. So I wish good to Benitez."

In his quest for on-pitch perfection, Abramovich's patience is getting shorter. Luiz Felipe Scolari made it to February before getting sacked in 2009, while Villas-Boas got as far as March last season. Di Matteo was fired less than five months into a two-year contract that he signed in June.

"I am extremely proud of the successes and trophies that we were able to bring to the club in recent months," the Italian said.

"Lifting Chelsea's first Champions League trophy, in Munich, was the best achievement in club history and without doubt the highlight of my career to date, both as a player and manager. It is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life," he added.

Underperforming striker Fernando Torres will welcome his compatriot's arrival at the Bridge, having blossomed into one of the game's finest strikers during their time together at Liverpool.

"Sometimes, the things you work on are things you can't even see, but when you try it, you realise that each little detail Rafa works on might be worth three or four more goals a season," Torres said in a 2010 interview.

"Three or four goals a season for every little detail he teaches you might be another 10 or 11 goals, and suddenly you're scoring 30 goals, not 20."

However, Benitez is hated by many Chelsea fans because of his six-year tenure as Liverpool manager, during which he twice denied the Blues a place in the Champions League final.

"You won't find many Chelsea fans happy with an appointment of an ex-Liverpool manager," former Chelsea and Liverpool midfielder Nigel Spackman said of the 52-year-old Spaniard.

"Benitez has got a great CV and a good record, but the only way he will win the Stamford Bridge crowd over is getting the results," Spackman added. "Now he has to focus on trying to win the Premier League."